Is Sola Scriptura Reasonable?

PROPOSITION: Is Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone) a reasonable method for understanding Christian orthodoxy? Let’s examine the facts:

FACT: There is nothing in Scripture teaching that “Scripture alone” is all-sufficient for the Christian Faith.

FACT: There is something in Scripture advocating reliance on both Scripture as well as oral Tradition (2 Thess 2:15, Phil 4:9, 1 Corinth 11:2, 2 Thess 3:6).

FACT: There is nothing in Scripture suggesting that a time will come when this dual expression of Christian truth (Scripture and oral Tradition) will come to an end.

FACT: There is also nothing in Scripture determining a Divinely-selected list of inspired books (i.e., the present New Testament canon).

FACT: There is also no statement within any of these New Testament books claiming that these books are Divinely-inspired. This becomes especially significant when one cites references to Divine revelation in the present New Testament books (e.g. Ephesians 3:3), since many of the Christian writings excluded from the New Testament canon also contain such references to Divine inspiration (e.g., The Apocalypse of Peter, the Protoevangelium of James, etc).

FACT: The present canon of the New Testament was not determined until the year 397 A.D. at the Council of Carthage. …And by a Church which clearly accepted both Scripture and oral Tradition as the rule of Faith.

FACT: Examples of this oral Tradition can be documented as early as A.D. 90 –a time when many of those who knew Christ (including the Apostle John) were still alive.

This documentation is to be found in 1 Clement to the Corinthians –a non-canonical epistle, which was considered to be Divinely-inspired by numerous Church fathers and many city-churches (esp. Corinth itself) until it was excluded from the New Testament in 397 A.D..

FACT: Three of these oral Traditions documented in 1 Clement are: 1. Peter and Paul’s ministries in Rome; 2. Apostolic succession; and 3. the Eucharist as a Sacrifice.

1. On Peter and Paul in Rome, 1 Clement 5:1 reads:

“Consider the noble examples of our own generation. Through jealousy and envy, the greatest and most righteous pillars (Peter and Paul) were persecuted, and they persevered even to death. Let us set before our eyes the good Apostles: Peter, through unrighteous envy, endured not one or two, but numerous labors and when he had at length suffered martyrdom, departed to the place of glory due to him. Owing to envy, Paul also obtained the reward of patient endurance, after being seven times thrown into captivity, compelled to flee, and stoned. After preaching both in the east and west, he gained the illustrious reputation due to his faith, having taught righteousness to the whole world, and come to the extreme limit of the west, and suffered martyrdom under the prefects.”

2. On Apostolic succession, 1 Clement 42:1-4 reads:

“The Apostles received the Gospel for us from the Lord Jesus Christ; and Jesus Christ was sent by God. Christ, therefore, is from God, and the Apostles are from Christ. Both of these orderly arrangements, then, are by God’s will. Through countryside and city they preached; and they appointed their earliest converts, testing them by the Spirit, to be the bishops and deacons of future believers.”

1 Clement then continues this thought in 44:1-2, where it reads:

“Our Apostles knew through our Lord Jesus Christ that there would be strife for the office of bishop. For this reason, therefore, having received perfect foreknowledge, they appointed those who have already been mentioned, and afterwards added the further provision that, if they should die, other approved men should succeed to their ministry.”

3. On the Eucharist as Sacrifice, 1 Clement 44:4 reads:

“Since then these things are manifest to us, and we have looked into the depths of the Divine knowledge, we ought to do in order all things which the Master commanded us to perform at appointed times. He commanded us to celebrate Sacrifices and services (the Eucharist), and that it should not be thoughtlessly or disorderly (i.e., 1 Corinth 11: 17-34), but at fixed times and hours. He has Himself fixed by His supreme will the places and persons (the appointed presbyters) whom He desires for these celebrations, in order that all things may be done piously according to His good pleasure, and be acceptable to His will. So then those who offer their oblations at the appointed times are acceptable and blessed, but they follow the laws of the Master and do not sin (i.e., 1 Corinth 11: 27-30). For to the high priest (e.g. the bishop) his proper ministrations are allotted, and to the priests (e.g. the presbyters/priests) the proper place has been appointed, and on the Levites (e.g. the deacons) their proper services have been imposed. The layman is bound by the ordinances for the laity. ……Our sin will not be small if we eject from the episcopate those who blamelessly and holily have offered its Sacrifices.”

FACT: The demonstration of “Eucharist as Sacrifice” this early (A.D. 90) not only puts Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinth 10:16-22 into perspective (as well as the other verses from 1 Corinth cited above), but also testifies to Paul’s use of the word “Tradition” in 1 Corinth 11:2 and 2 Thess 2:15. Using the Eucharist as an example, one cannot therefore say that “Tradition” in 2 Thess 2:15 merely refers to a “one-time deliverance of teaching” from Paul to the Corinthians, but is rather an on-going institution, exercised weekly in the Eucharistic celebration itself. This becomes especially striking when we realize that both St. Paul in 1 Corinthians and St. Clement here in 1 Clement are writing to the same city-church (within 35-40 years of each other); and that both these scriptures were read side-by-side by this church — both being considered Divinely-inspired by the Corinthians for 300 years!

The continuation of such oral Tradition becomes even more striking once we realize that the author of 1 Clement, St. Clement of Rome, was an intimate associate of the Apostle Paul, as Paul himself testifies in Philippians 4:3, where this same Clement is called Paul’s “co-worker,” who “struggled at my side in promoting the Gospel.” The evidence that this is the same man is given to us by St. Irenaeus, writing about A.D.180; and as if it were common knowledge.

However, if there is still any doubt that these 3 oral Traditions found in 1 Clement (Peter & Paul in Rome; Apostolic Succession; and Eucharist as Sacrifice) were known to the entire Church, … Let us consider the testimony of St. Ignatius of Antioch (a disciple of the Apostle St. John), writing about ten years after Clement of Rome, and from the other side of the known world!

1. On Peter and Paul in Rome, Ignatius writes in his Epistle to the Romans 4:3 :

“Not as Peter and Paul did, do I command you. They were Apostles, and I am a mere convict.”

2. On Apostolic succession, Ignatius’ Epistle to the Smyrnaeans 8:1-2 reads:

“You must all follow the bishop as Jesus Christ follows the Father, and the presbytery (priests) as you would the Apostles. Reverence the deacons as you would the command of God. Let no one do anything of concern to the Church without the bishop. Let that be considered a valid Eucharist which is celebrated by the bishop, or by one whom he appoints. Wherever the bishop appears, let the people be there; just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.”

3. On the Eucharist as Sacrifice, we have Ignatius’ Epistle to the Smyrnaeans 6:2, 7:1 :

“Consider how contrary to the mind of God are the heterodox in regard to the grace of God which has come to us. They have no regard for charity, none for the widow, the orphan, the oppressed, none for the man in prison, the hungry or the thirsty. ….They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they do not admit that the Eucharist is the Flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, the same Flesh which suffered for our sins and which the Father, in His graciousness, raised from the dead.”

Also, in his Epistle to the Philadelphians 3:2-4:1, which says:

“Take care, then who belong to God and to Jesus Christ – they are with the bishop. Take care, then, to use one Eucharist, so that whatever you do, you do according to God: for there is one Flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one Cup in the union of His Blood; one altar, as there is one bishop with the presbytery and my fellow servants, the deacons.”

Therefore, FACT: These two men (Clement and Ignatius) — who knew the Apostles — taught from both Scripture and from a common oral Tradition: the Tradition referred to by Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2:15.

FACT: It was also these men and the Church they shepherded — which lived by both Scripture and Tradition — who preserved the books of the New Testament we have today; preserving correct doctrine against the schismatics and heretics, who dreamed up all sorts of false doctrines about Jesus and His Church.

FACT: The bishops who selected the final and universal canon of the New Testament were the successors of these men; and held fast to the same body of Tradition which Clement and Ignatius protected in the late 1st and early 2nd centuries.

It therefore follows that we have a continuation of Christian Tradition: a Tradition which never included a doctrine of Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone).

PROPOSITION: Was Scripture and Tradition the rule of faith for the ancient Jews?

FACT: Yes it was. Aside from the Old Testament Scriptures, the Jews also lived by a number of ancient oral traditions (many of which will eventually be recorded in the Jewish Talmud).

FACT: Jesus Himself lived by these oral traditions.

FACT: Not only did the Lord live by them, but He is also recorded defending one in Matthew 23.

Matthew 23: 1-3: “Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, saying, ‘The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all the things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example.’ ”

FACT: The “chair of Moses” was Moses’ teaching authority, according to ancient Jewish oral tradition.

For example, it is recorded in the Midrash Rabbah: “They made for him (Moses) a chair like that of the advocates, in which one sits and yet seems to be standing.” (Exodus Rabbah 43:4)

Also, the Pesikta siRav Kahana 1:7 mentions the “chair of Moses,” and the editors of the English edition comment:

“The particular place in the synagogue where the leaders used to sit was known metaphorically as the ‘chair of Moses’ or as the ‘Throne of the Torah,’ symbolizing the succession of teachers of Torah (from Moses) down through the ages.”

FACT: While the “chair of Moses” is an element of ancient Jewish tradition — apparently dating from the time of Moses himself — it is recorded nowhere in the Old Testament Scriptures. Rather, it is strictly an oral Tradition.

FACT: Yet, while not being recorded in the Old Testament, Jesus Himself — Who is (let us not forget) the Word of God — bears testimony to its legitimacy.

Therefore, it must be admitted that the Word of God as we have it in the Old Testament is not merely a Scriptural record, but rather comes to us (at least in this one case) through both Scripture as well as a living oral Tradition. The idea that the Scribes and Pharisees (i.e., “the fathers of Israel”) were the direct successors of Moses’ authority is stated nowhere in Old Testament Scripture; yet He Who is the Word of God tells us this based on oral Tradition.

QUESTION: Are there other cases of extra-OT Scriptural Traditions recorded in the NT?

FACT: Yes, there are. Among these are 1 Corinth 10:4 (in which the rock in the desert is said to “follow” the Children of Israel under Moses…something not recorded in Scripture, but found only in Jewish oral Tradition, even to this day) and Jude 9 and Jude 14 (in which the Apostle cites extra-Scriptural Traditions about Michael and Satan fighting over Moses’ body, and conveys a prophecy from Enoch …neither of which are found in the OT Scriptures). Also, in 2 Timothy 3:8, Paul directly names the two Egyptian magicians who opposed Moses before Pharaoh in Exodus 7:11-13. Yet, the Book of Exodus itself never names these two magicians, nor does any other book of OT Scripture. Rather, Paul is citing Jewish oral Tradition.

Therefore, if such examples exist, and if even Jesus Himself preached the Gospel in reference to both Scripture and Tradition, why should His Church be limited to Scripture alone? Is His Church guided less by the living Spirit of God than the Jewish people who preceded it?

PROPOSITION: Did the bishops of the early Church consider their teaching authority to be guided and protected by the Holy Spirit for the good of the Church?

FACT: Yes they did; and they had good reason to believe this, as evidenced by John 14:16-18 & 26 and 16:12-13:

[14:16] “And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate to be with you always, [17] the Spirit of Truth, Whom the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows Him. But, you know Him because He remains with you and will be in you. [18] I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. …. [26] The Advocate, the Holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name — He will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you ….[16:12] “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. [13] But, when He comes, the Spirit of Truth, He will guide you to all truth. He will not speak on His own, but He will speak what He hears, and I will declare to you things that are to come. ”

Q: To whom is Jesus speaking here?

A: The Apostles.

Q: Just the Apostles, or to the entire Church as well?

A: To the entire Church as well, as evidenced in 14:16 (…to be with you always), 17 (He remains with you and will be in you), and John 17:20-21, which continues this Last Supper discourse:

“I pray not only for them (i.e., the Apostles), but also for those who will believe in me through their word (i.e., the whole Church), so that they may be one, as You, Father, are in me and I in You, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that You sent me.”

FACT: Therefore, Christ is promising that the Holy Spirit — “the Spirit of Truth” — will remain not only with the Apostles, but with the entire Church, a Church which will still need to be guided and comforted after the Apostles are gone.

FACT: Christ does not maintain that a written record is necessary to remind us of His teachings; but rather that the Holy Spirit (Who will “be with you always”) will remind the Church of all that He taught (John 14:26).

FACT: Christ calls the Holy Spirit “the Spirit of Truth” (John 14:17, 16:13)

FACT: Christ goes on to say how this Spirit of Truth will “remain” with the Church and will “be in” the Church always, guiding it toward all truth.

FACT: 1 Timothy 3:15 calls the Church the “pillar and foundation of Truth.” Yet, Scripture alone is never called this; nor is Scripture ever considered authoritative when apart from the Church, which is guided by this same Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:20-21 & 2:1-3).

So, now we’ve come full circle. In Matthew 23, Jesus proclaims that the scribes and Pharisees have the authority to teach and guide because they are the successors of Moses for the Jewish people; and that the Jews should “do and observe all the things whatsoever they tell you.”

One therefore must assume that this same authority was also possessed by those who held the “chair of Moses” before them — the ones who decided which Old Testament books were Divinely-inspired, etc.

So, it therefore follows that if the Jewish leaders who “held the chair of Moses” — leaders who didn’t even possess the Holy Spirit (as our bishops did and do) …If these Jewish leaders were Divinely-guided to define a canon of the Old Testament in c. 200 B.C. (the Septuagint), how much more so could the Catholic Christian bishops at Carthage in 397 A.D. count on the Spirit of Truth!

So, the Christian Bible is a product of the Church, not the other way round! And Scripture itself testifies to this, the same Scripture which testifies that Christian truth comes to us in two ways: through Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition (2 Thess 2:15).

Now, obviously, this Christian truth (aka, the Gospel) cannot be added to or subtracted from …but is confined to the Revelation we have from the Apostles. However, it is maintained, preserved, and continually defined and proclaimed correctly under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Who will be with us always; and Who will prevent our appointed shepherds from leading the entire Church astray.

But, it is a mistake to view the Christian message as a simple written record preserved by human means and dependent on human intelligence. Rather, this Truth is something alive and dynamic, supported consistently and infallibly down through the ages upon its “pillar and foundation,” the Church.

Mark Bonocore
The Catholic Legate
February 18, 2004

Sola Scriptura Dance

Any experienced Catholic apologist is quite familiar with “the dance”. An Evangelical Protestant “Bible-alone” believer will accuse the Catholic Church of “error” – of contradicting what the Bible “clearly” teaches, and of following the “traditions of men” rather than the Scriptural Word of God.

The Catholic apologist’s first response to this challenge will typically be to address the substance of the argument – to deal with the Scriptural passage in question (the Scriptural passage that Catholicism supposedly “contradicts”), and to illustrate (using mature exegesis and historical precedent, etc.) that Catholic doctrine does not contradict the content of Scripture at all, but is actually in full accord with it.

In reaction to this, more often than not (and even if the Catholic’s response is obviously sound, and perfectly acceptable to any reasonable person), the Evangelical Protestant will continue to insist that the Scripture passage is incompatible with Catholic doctrine – that the “error” of Catholicism is exposed by this “clear” and “obvious” Biblical teaching. And, at this point, an Evangelical Protestant will typically “pile on” his accusations, claiming how many other Catholic doctrines (which of course have nothing to do with the present discussion) are also “refuted” by the Bible.

In response to this, the Catholic is now forced to address the Evangelical Protestant’s methodology. Since the Evangelical will not accept (or even acknowledge) the Catholic’s Scriptural exegesis, the Catholic must point out that there is a reasonable distinction between what is actually written in the Bible and this Evangelical Protestant’s interpretation of what is written. At this point, the Catholic expects the Evangelical to acknowledge that his argument against Catholicism is based, not on an obvious and undisputed reading of the Biblical text, but on the Evangelical’s own, specific interpretation of the Biblical text; and since their dispute is based on mere interpretation, the Catholic expects the Evangelical to at least admit the possibility that his own interpretation of what is written may be incorrect. Indeed, if the Evangelical continues to insist that his own reading / interpretation is clear and obvious, then the Catholic will refer him to the bigger picture in “Bible alone” Protestantism – to the fact that there are literally thousands of separate and doctrinally-divided “Bible alone” Protestant sects, all with the same Bible, but all interpreting it differently.

At this point, the specific response depends heavily on the personal character, maturity, and level of education of the Evangelical Protestant. Some (never realizing this problem before, and recognizing that they are unprepared to continue) will end the discussion. Some will simply ignore the problem, and continue to bash Catholicism (sometimes making the totally irrelevant “tit-for-tat” argument, that the same kind of heterodoxy supposedly exists within Catholicism). And some will acknowledge the problem of Protestant heterodoxy, yet give various excuses to account for it: Some, not appreciating the untenable and blindly subjective nature of their position, will say that all other Protestant denominations are also reading the Bible incorrectly. Only their own denomination has a sound appreciation of what Scripture really says. Others will insist that the rampant heterodoxy within Protestantism has nothing to do with the use of “Bible alone”, but is created by the same sort of “human error” that supposedly plagues the Catholic Church.

Yet, no matter what the excuse or attempt to justify the “Bible alone” position, two profoundly obvious elements are always at play: The first is the Evangelical’s unwillingness to seriously acknowledge the problem of pure subjectivity (and even outright relativism) in Protestant Biblical interpretation – something quite obvious to all Catholic apologists. But, the second element, I would seriously argue, is even more important. For, it speaks to the fundamental psychology of the vast majority of Protestants – the very thing that drives them to be Protestant – to belong to a religion that, in essence, “protests” against “error” – a form of Christianity that is preoccupied with the principals of “purity” and “reform”. And this second element is the assumption (implicit in almost everything the Evangelical says toward his doctrinal opponent, whether it’s a Catholic, someone from a competing Protestant sect, or even a secular atheist) that the opposition is “corrupt”, and thus “blinded by” sin and iniquity, thus accounting for his doctrinal error. In other words, in the Evangelical Protestant’s (implicit perhaps even subconscious) view of things, the reason we Catholics are in error, isn’t merely because we (supposedly) read the Bible incorrectly. Rather, it’s because (as the Evangelical sees it – given his religious world-view), we Catholics are part of the “sinful corruption” – the “mess” that his sect is committed to redeeming and reforming. This is the essential and fundamental mentality of nearly every Evangelical Protestant – his psychological raison d’etre; the nature of what a Catholic apologist is really dealing with, when he responds to challenges like the one illustrated above.

And, once one realizes this, it becomes fairly obvious why purely rational, fact-based arguments against Protestant positions predominately fall on deaf ears. For, when a Catholic points out how the use of “Bible alone” only results in relativistic heterodoxy, or even when we illustrate how “Bible alone” is not a Biblical teaching – how it’s not taught anywhere in the Bible, and thus both self-contradicting and the same kind of extra-Scriptural “human tradition” that we Catholics are accused of embracing, none of this seems to effect or significantly disturb most Evangelical Protestants. And the reason is because no rational argument is strong enough to penetrate their psychological preoccupation – their invincible certainty that they stand for what is right and good – that they are the upholders of God’s moral truth and saving message, in opposition to “the corruptions” that stands against it. Ergo, no matter how logical or reasonable its arguments may be, the Catholic Church “must be wrong”. This is the psychological (perhaps even subconscious) presumption at play.

Indeed, consider the very historical origins of Protestantism in the 16th Century, and one can see the why “Bible alone” is so easily justified in the “reforming” Protestant mentality. At this time, and especially from the point of view of honest, hard-working burgers in northern Germany (i.e., the first Protestants), the Roman Papacy was held by notoriously sinful, secular-minded, politically corrupt Italian aristocrats, who certainly did not embody the time-honored ‘Germanic’ virtues of purity, simplicity, and straight-forwardness, but (with good reason) were seen as quite ‘tricky’, scheming, and untrustworthy. These Popes (and their associates) “sold” indulgences, and practiced all sorts of (literally) Machiavellian tactics in order to advance their (political / religious) agendas. So, in short, from the perspective of those who were preoccupied with the vices of these Popes and other Catholic clergymen, the 16th Century Catholic Church was seen as primarily and fundamentally corrupt – a Church that required radical reform. In other words, unlike faithful Catholics (such as Erasmus and Thomas More) who also appreciated the need to rid the Church of corrupt influences, the first Protestants saw the Catholic Church itself as corrupt. Or, more to the point, they saw the (supposed) “doctrinal errors” in Catholicism (e.g. its focus on the saints, Mary, and “ritualistic” Sacraments, as well Catholicism’s opposition to sola fide, and other Protestant “truths”) as mere extensions (or the natural results) of the pervasive moral corruption in the Catholic Church itself. This is a subtle but crucially important dimension in how Protestants view Catholics and Catholicism – something that is dramatically different from how Catholics commonly view Protestants. For, while a Catholic may believe that a Protestant is in error, this Catholic will almost never presume that the Protestant’s error is rooted in personal (or communal) moral corruption. Rather, the Catholic typical assumes that the Protestant is merely poorly educated or woefully ignorant of the truth. Not so when it comes to this Protestant’s view of the Catholic. 😉 For, while a sympathetic Protestant may recognize and take pity on a Catholic for intellectual ignorance, the presumption that this Catholic’s doctrinal error is actually rooted in sinful / worldly corruption is still always there.

For, even today, the presumption that the Catholic Church is intrinsically corrupt – just as “corrupt” as it was in the 16th Century, is essential to Protestant belief and the Evangelical Protestant mentality. This is the unspoken element in every Catholic-Evangelical debate – a psychological presumption that significantly limits (or even nullifies) the rational arguments made by a Catholic apologist. For, even when a Catholic begins to make rational sense, there is always that “specter” lurking in the back of the Evangelical’s mind – a suspicion that this Catholic (and/or his Pope) is really an immoral (or self-deluded) “enemy of the Gospel” – that he probably practices or endorses (or, at best, foolishly tolerates) all manner of corrupt and sinful activities; and this sinful / secular corruption is what leads him to believe as he does (i.e., “wrongly”). In other words, in the Evangelical mind, the Catholic apologist may come across as rational and seem to make sense; but this is all part of Catholic “trickiness” – all part of the sinful/secular corruption that Catholicism notoriously stands for (at least, as Protestants traditionally see it – i.e., the Protestant prejudice and psychological presumption). For, while a Catholic views the world as fallen and in need of redemption and communion with God, we still recognize the world’s fundamental created goodness, and we celebrate this goodness and incorporate it into our Faith (e.g. Sacramental theology). But, a Protestant (who harbors an “either/or” Germanic mentality) does not typically see things this way. For the Protestant, the world is primarily a corruption, from which man needs to be delivered. Thus, it is blatantly obvious (to the Protestant mind) that Catholicism’s “accord” with the world is a sign of our “corruption”.

Now, when it comes specifically to the Protestant use of “Bible alone”, both originally in the 16th Century and still today, if one is operating under the (passionate) impression that they are employing the pure and reliable Word of God in opposition to sinful/secular corruption – with sinful / secular corruption seen as the primary and ever-present enemy of the Gospel, then it is not surprising if one is not really concerned about the pitfalls of subjectivity or relativism (e.g. different Protestants deriving different, or even contradictory, doctrines from the Bible). For, in the Evangelical mentality, the urgency is not really truth. Rather, it’s “purity” or “reform” – the goal being to rid the believer of the corrupting, sinful/secular influences of the world (including those, so they presume, of the Catholic Church). As long as this is achieved, then the Bible has served its purpose. In other words, as long as the primary preoccupation of Protestantism is realized (to “reform” and to “deliver” the believer from that which is seen as “the error” no matter what that “error” might be), then doctrinal unity or consistency isn’t so important. This is the mentality that we are dealing with.

Indeed, the fact that all Protestants hold this same “reforming” preoccupation in common accounts for why Protestants have a much higher threshold of tolerance when it comes to other Protestants than they do for Catholics. For, while other Protestants may disagree with them (even quite passionately, and on numerous key doctrines) the fact remains that both (e.g.) Baptists and (e.g.) Presbyterians are committed to the same primary goal – i.e., to deliver people from the “corruption” of “the world”. And, in the Protestant mind, Catholicism is part of this “world” – a (supposedly) corrupt, “secularized Christianity” from which their forefathers escaped.

Now, problems only arise in the Protestant camp (viz. their “Bible alone” methodology) when secularism/”Catholicism” is not a pressing threat, and their own contradictory doctrines become apparent. At this point, one of two things will invariably happen: The Protestants in question will either gloss over their differences by appealing for the need of “charity” among Christians (as if mere “charity” nullifies heterodoxy and is enough to achieve true Christian unity. If it did, then it should be enough to correct the Catholic-Protestant schism as well; and no Protestant is willing to say that). Or, the contending Protestants will adopt (toward each other) the very same presumptions that they apply to Catholics. In other words, they will assume that the Protestants who interpret Scripture differently than they do are the victims of some kind of moral failing or corruption – that they are unable to read the “clear message” of the Bible “correctly” because of some human weakness or secular mentality. In essence, their Protestant opponents have fallen into the “mess”. They have (to one degree or another) succumbed to the same “corruption” that plagues Catholics and other such “infidels”, whereas “sincere”, “faithful”, and “obviously true” believers read still Scripture “correctly”.

So, is this a primacy of pure subjectivity? Of course. Is it no better than relativism? Most certainly, when looked at objectively and dispassionately. But, you see, objectivity and dispassionate realism are not what is at play here. Rather, we are dealing with the passionate exercise of a reforming agenda – an urgent need to stave off “corruption” and to maintain the “purity” of one’s faith. While recognizing this may not correct the problem, it certainly explains WHY Evangelical Protestants are not (apparently) troubled by their purely subjective (and obviously relative) methodology (i.e., their use of “Bible alone”). For while it may not be objective or even rational, it does achieve what the Evangelical Protestant desires to achieve – namely, it serves to “protect” the Evangelical believer from what he personally (or communally) perceives to be “corrupt”/”unclean”/”erroneous”. And this is all that matters. This is the nature of the Evangelical Protestant religion. And, lest we Catholics merely become frustrated by what we perceive (quite correctly) to be an immature and irrational mentality, we would first do well to realize what we’re dealing with, and to understand why the Evangelical behaves as he does. At the very least, it will serve to improve our “dance steps”. 😉

Mark Bonocore
March 28, 2013

Protestants Claim Not To Need Scripture…Except When They Do

In this e-mail exchange between guest apologist Brock Restovich and Chad (a Baptist), Chad demonstrates the hole Protestantism has dug for itself in regards to Sacred Tradition, alternately refusing it and relying on it.


Thanks again for your email. Below is my response to your part 1. I will read your part 2 either tonight or tomorrow and then form a cogent, logical response (hopefully). I also want to thank you for your Christian charity in discussing these matters. I truly appreciate this as we grow closer in truth. Please understand that I have the utmost respect for you and your love for Christ. For brevity sake, I tried to keep my answers to the point, so please do not assume any negative tone. Emails are poor conveyors of tone. I’m sure you will agree that there is so much we can say about these topics that it’s hard to try to fit it in one email. With that being said, I pray that you and I will continue to grow in Christ and to nurture our evolving relationship.

Chad: Wow!! Your email has made my brain hurt. LOL!! I absolutely LOVE discussing these types of issues as I can tell you do as well. I have broken your email down into 2 parts: Part 1 is your question

How do we know which books should and which books should not be included in the canon of scripture?

Part 2 is an argument that you made concerning the Catholic church being the entity to canonize scripture. So I will attempt to address both parts. Let’s dive in: This is an excellent question. First of all Canonocity is determined by God. It is not the antiquity, authenticity, or religious community that makes a book canonical or authoritative. A book is valuabe because it is canonical, and not canonical because it is or was considered valuable. Its authority is established by God and merely discovered by God’s people.

Brock: “A book is valuable because it is canonical, and not canonical because it is or was considered valuable”? Chad, as I see it, this statement contains some serious defects in it and is detrimental to the sola scriptura position. How do you know which books were “considered valuable” or not? How do we know that the Gospel of Mark was considered valuable? Also, some Christians believed the Letter of Clement to the Corinthians to be “valuable”… so valuable that they actually believed it to be inspired Scripture. Should it, therefore, be included in the canon of Scripture? What is more is that upon further examination of this statement, your use of “is” just begs the question. Some people consider the writings of Billy Graham valuable. Should they, too, be put into the canon of Scripture? What if a given person or community believed that James was NOT valuable? Do they have the authority to remove it from the canon? Also, my brother, I do not mean to be so critical, but look at your statement a little closer:

“Canonocity is determined by God. It is not the…religious community that makes a book canonical or authoritative…It is canonical, and not canonical because it is or was considered valuable. Its authority is established by God and merely discovered by God’s people.”

Maybe you meant to say something else, but do you see how you contradicted yourself? I am really not following your logic here. God determined the canon. It was not determined by a religious community, but it is canonical because it was considered valuable? Valuable by who? A religious community?! You, then, say

“Its authority is established by God and merely discovered by God’s people.”

Can you be more specific to who God’s “people” would be? Wouldn’t they be a “religious community” of believers? Of course they would. Also, I agree that its authority is established by God but how do you know which books make up the Bible without this “religious community” who merely recognized or discovered the canon? In other words, you admit that our knowledge of the canon of Scripture comes to us from sources outside the Bible, right? In other words, we cannot rely on Scripture alone to determine one of the most fundamental questions of Christianity: What books of the Hebrew Scriptures and what books written by early Christians should and should not be considered “inspired” by God? Also, the incorrect view and correct view charts are not supported by Scripture or Christian history. How can the Church be the “child” of the canon, when the Church existed before the canon was even set? Can’t we also say that the “discoverer” and “determiner” are essentially one and the same? You said yourself that the Bible did not just fall out of the sky. In other words, God did guide His people in recognizing His written Word. That is not the question. The question is how did He do that? Did He guide us on this question through the words of the Bible, or through Tradition? You have already acknowledged that there is no list in the Bible of which books should be in the Bible, so the answer has to be that God guided us in recognizing His Word through Tradition. Another question for you is this: Who did God give this guidance to? Did He give it to each and every Christian? Does each and every Christian have the authority to pronounce authoritatively on what is and is not God-breathed Scripture? I’m a Christian, so do I have the authority to decide which books are or are not God-breathed based on how the Holy Spirit guides me? Or, did God not give this authority to each and every Christian, but rather to the leaders of the Church that He founded? History tells us and Scripture supports that the Church came before the Bible. It was, indeed, the Church who recognized and authoritatively pronounced on what was and was not to be included in the Scriptures. In other words, there was some authority – outside of the Bible – which we needed in order to be sure the Bible was the authentic Word of God. Which means we cannot go by Scripture alone to answer all matters pertaining to Christian beliefs and practices. We need Tradition as well as Scripture.

The incorrect view places the church over the canon whereas the correct view places the church under the canon. However, this raises secondary questions, if God determines the canon, how did believers become aware of what God had done? What marks of inspiration guided the fathers as they identified and collected the inspired books? There are 5 foundational questions that lie at the very heart of the discovery process: Was the book written by a prophet of God? Prophecity determined canonicity. A prophet was one who declared what God had disclosed. This is one reason why many of the Gnostic gospels are rejected because of forgery. A book cannot be canonical if it’s not genuine. Was the writer confirmed by acts of God? There were true and false prophets (Matthew 7:15) so it was necessary to have divine confirmation of the true ones. Does the message tell the truth about God? That is, does the book tell the truth about God and his world as known from previous revelations? God cannot contradict himself (2 Corinthians 1:17- 18) nor can he utter what is false (Hebrews 6:18). No book with false claims can be the word of God (Deuteronomy 13:1-3). Did it come with the power of God? The fathers believed the Word of God to be “living and active” (Hebrews 4:12) and should have transforming force (2 Timothy 3:17; 1 Peter 1:23). Was it accepted by the people of God? A prophet of God was confirmed by an act of God and was recognized as a spokesman by the people who received the message. Thus, the seal of canonicity depended on whether the book was accepted by the people. Believers in the prophet’s community acknowledged the prophetic nature of the message, as did other contemporary believers familiar with the prophet.

These tests for canonicity were not mechanical means to measure the amount of inspired literature, nor did the Holy Spirit say, “This book or passage is inspired and that one is not.” That would be disclosure and not discovery. The Holy Spirit providentially guided the examination process and gave witness to the people as they read or heard.

You said,

“The incorrect view places the church over the canon whereas the correct view places the church under the canon.”

The canon did not just tell the Church which books were inspired and which ones were not. The canon is what is in question. The Bible does not give us a list of inspired books. So how do we know? The Church determined, protected, wrote, and preserved the Scriptures throughout Christian history. The testament of the early church fathers affirms this as well as historical documents. You, then, said,

“What marks of inspiration guided the fathers as they identified and collected the inspired books?”

This is a great question, Chad! To put this another way, “What marks of inspiration guided the fathers as the they ‘determined’ and collected the inspired books?” Chad, who were these “fathers”? Were they Baptists fathers, Presbyterian fathers or were they Catholic fathers? Did these fathers believe the same doctrines as you do today? Did these fathers affirm your beliefs in doctrines such as the Lord’s Supper, Baptism, or what the Church even is? Essentially, did these fathers believe in the Bible alone as their sole rule of faith? Here is the lists of criteria that you provided: Was the book written by a prophet of God? Was the writer confirmed by acts of God? Does the message tell the truth about God? Did it come with the power of God? Was it accepted by the people of God? First, where did you get these criteria? How do you know they were the criteria for identifying and collecting the Word of God? Are these criteria in the Bible? No, they are not. So, again, I find you using Tradition in order to determine a fundamental question of Christianity: Which books are and are not the authentic Word of God. However, let’s look for a second at your criteria: Was the book written by a prophet of God? How do we know if it was or wasn’t? Was Mark a prophet of God? If you answer, “Yes”, by what authority do you say that he was? The Bible nowhere states that Mark was a prophet of God. The Letter to the Hebrews…who wrote it? How do you know who wrote it? Does the Bible tell you? With all due respect, my brother, but for someone who goes by the Bible alone, you sure do rely on a lot of extra-biblical tradition and authority for your basic beliefs. This criteria is completely useless if we go by the Bible alone.

Was the writer confirmed by acts of God? Let’s look again, at Mark. Does the Bible ever record that Mark ever performed any acts of God? Does the Bible ever record that he ever performed any miracles? No! In fact, we don’t even know for sure which “Mark” wrote Mark, do we? Not, at least, if we go by the Bible alone. Was the writer of Hebrews confirmed by acts of God? Was Luke? Does the message tell the truth about God? Chad, who is supposed to decide whether or not a book is speaking the truth about God? If the book says God is spirit…how do you know that’s true? Have you ever met God to confirm that He is spirit? No offense, but this is an absolute ridiculous criteria if you rely on the Bible alone. You determine whether a book should be in the Bible by whether or not it tells the truth about God based on what authority in regards to God? The Bible!? Talk about circular reasoning!!! And, does the book claim to be of God? How many books in the Bible claim to be of God? Do you know? The correct answer is: not all of them. How many books not in the Bible claim to be of God? A whole bunch! Did it come with the power of God?

Please read Paul’s letter to Philemon and tell me that it has a “transforming force”. Who made up these criteria? What book did you get these from? I know that it was not the Bible. What authority are you relying upon for your information here? What authority does the author have to be speaking on such things and to be proclaiming such things? Are you or the author relying on the Bible for what he says about the canon of Scripture? If you say, “Yes”, please give me book, chapter, and verse that says what he says. And if these authors or you are not relying on the Bible, then what is he or you relying on? Tradition? Whose tradition? What tradition? In other words, the Bible alone advocates do not follow their own doctrine. Sola Scriptura falls on its own face. If it’s not in the Bible, then I do not have to believe, do I? Was it accepted by the people of God? How do you know the book was accepted as God’s Word by the people to whom it was first delivered? Who was the Gospel of Mark first delivered to? You don’t know, do you? If you don’t even know who it was first delivered to, then how can you know if it was accepted by them as God’s Word? And, if they did accept it as God’s Word, then how do you know this? Again, the only way you can know it is from Tradition. The Bible doesn’t tell us how these people accepted these writings. By the way, did you know that the Corinthians accepted the Letter of Clement to them as God’s Word? Should it, therefore, be included in Scripture? Finally, on these points, why was it that all Christian Bibles contained the 7 books of the O.T. that are in the Catholic Bible, but not in the Protestant Bible, from the time the canon was officially recognized by the Catholic Church in 382 A.D. until Martin Luther came along in the 1500’s? You do know that Martin Luther threw out those 7 books of the Bible based solely on his own authority, don’t you? Also, the N.T. does not quote or allude to every O.T. book? There are several O.T. books in your Protestant Bible that are nowhere quoted in the N.T. – Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Obadiah, Zephaniah, Judges, 1 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Lamentations, and Nahum. What is interesting is that there are several places where the New Testament very definitely alludes to the 7 books of the Catholic Bible that are missing from the Protestant Bible. Here are just a few examples: Matthew 6:14 – Sirach 28:2; Matthew 27:39-43 – Wisdom 2:16-20; Romans 1:20-32 – Wisdom 13 and 14; Hebrews 11:35 – 2 Maccabees 7:1-42; James 1:19 – Sirach 5:11.

It is a known fact that there were major controversies amongst the Jews as to what did and did not belong in the Old Testament. It is well known by Protestant scholars that the Sadducees only accepted the first 5 books of the O.T. (The Pentateuch) as inspired Scripture. That’s it. Also, the Essenes, the Jewish sect from which we got the Dead Sea Scrolls, had a slightly different canon than the Pharisees. So there was much dispute amongst the Jews regarding the canon of Scripture. Plus, are you not aware that 2/3 of the quotes in the New Testament come from the Greek version of the Old Testament (The Septuagint), which contains the 7 books that Catholics have in their O.T. that Protestants do not?

Question: Can each of these 5 criteria be met by any Old or New Testament book?

The answer is no!

Question: Have these criteria come from the Bible, or have they been made up by men in an attempt to justify, after the fact, why they reject certain books as Scripture, even though all of Christendom accepted them as Scripture for 1100 years before the coming of Martin Luther? Where do these criteria come from? Are they from the Bible, or from the tradition of men? Chad, it’s almost as if you are under the assumption that anyone who picked up and read the Bible could know which books were inspired and which were not…almost as if it’s just so obvious. If it’s so obvious by reading them which books should and should not be considered inspired, then why was there so much dispute amongst the Jews regarding the Old Testament canon, and why so much dispute amongst Christians in the first 350 years of Christianity over the New Testament canon? You do know that many Christians disputed as to whether or not Revelation was inspired, don’t you? Other disputed books were: 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude, James, and Hebrews. Plus, there were books that many early Christians considered inspired that are not now in the canon. The Letter of Clement to the Corinthians, The Letter of Barnabas, the Apocalypse of Peter, the Apocalypse of Paul, The Teachings of the Apostles ( The Didache), The Gospel of Paul, The Shepherd of Hermas, The Gospel of Thomas, The Gospel of Peter, and others. If it’s that easy to determine an inspired book just by reading it, then why so much dispute among both Jews and Christians regarding the canon? Is it obvious by reading Paul’s Letter to Philemon that it is inspired Scripture? What about Leviticus? And is that your opinion or does the Bible somewhere tell us this? If it is not in the Bible, then how come you believe it? That’s about it for part 1. As I said above, I will have to read part 2 later tonight or tomorrow. Then form a response. If you want to wait to respond to this after I send part 2, that might be more beneficial. Just to keep us from repeating. Sound good?

Brock, you said, The Gospel of Matthew was actually the first book written. I agree with you here, but how do you know that? Does the Bible tell us? The answer to these questions is what I was alluding to in our conversation. The oral and written transmission of the deposit of Faith as passed on by the apostles. This is what is referred to as Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. Tradition is to be respected but not exalted. There obviously was a time when God’s word was spoken. But the teachings and traditions once communicated orally by the apostles were committed by them to writing for all generations to come. All that God intends us to have is found within the Scriptures. That is not to say that traditions is worthless.

“Tradition” in the form of church confessions and council pronouncements should be respected, but such tradition is not God’s revelation, and does not have an authority equal to that of Scripture. Jesus even rebuked some of the Pharisees in Mark 7:8, Neglecting the commandments of God, you hold to the tradition of men. Likewise in Colossians 2:8 Paul warns: See to it that no one takes you captive through vain philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. Any tradition that conflicts with scripture is to be rejected. here does the Bible say that “Tradition is to be respected but not exalted”? And where does Scripture say that the teachings and traditions once communicated orally by the apostles would eventually be written down?

Where does Scripture say that upon the death of the last apostle, Oral (Sacred) Tradition will cease? You are making a ton of assumptions in this paragraph, Chad. The Bible never claims to be all that God intended for us to have. In fact, John 21:25 says But there are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. Are those other teachings of Jesus not important? I think they are. It seems as if you are saying that they are not necessary. You are twisting Scripture to say what you want it to say, Chad. Scripture never says what you claim here. You then go on to say,

Tradition in the form of church confessions and council pronouncements should be respected, but such tradition is not God’s revelation, and does not have an authority equal to that of Scripture.

This is merely your personal, fallible opinion and is definitely not supported by Scripture. Let’s look at Acts 15. In Acts 15, the apostles and bishops held the first Christian council known as the Council of Jerusalem. In this chapter, do we see the apostles and bishops appealing to Scripture in deciding the dispute. No! So, what was going on in Acts 15? Well, the Bible says that some men were teaching the brethren …unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved. The Christians in Antioch did what they were taught. They had an issue, they tried to decide the matter for themselves. When that did not work, they appealed to two more witnesses, Paul and Barnabas…two guys not bad to have come to your community wouldn’t you say?! And when Paul and Barnabas could not settle the matter, they took it to the Church in Jerusalem and held a council (This is similar to Jesus’ command in Matthew 18:15-17). Scripture says The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. Which matter? They were convening over whether a Christian had to be circumcised. Remember the N.T. had not been written yet. At this point, the Bible doesn’t tell us which books had already been written, does it? Nope. So, what did they do? Did they appeal to Scripture? No! If they had, they would have decided that circumcision was indeed necessary because the O.T. said so. Then, Peter speaks for all the apostles and bishops and Scripture says that …all the assembly kept silent. Peter spoke, not appealing to Scripture, and decided the matter. Does that sound like the apostles and their successors practiced Sola Scriptura? Not to me. You go on to quote Mark 7:8 where Jesus condemns the “traditions of men”. Notice that Jesus doesn’t condemn all Traditions! He doesn’t even condemn all traditions of men. He only condemns those that nullify the very Word of God…both ORAL and WRITTEN. There is a distinction between the apostolic Tradition, which we should accept, and human traditions that negate the Word of God, which we should reject. As for Colossians 2:8, it says nothing about traditions conflicting with Scripture. Again, it is condemning those traditions that nullify the Word of God, which is both the written and oral Word. You have to keep in mind all of Scripture. You can’t pull out a verse and attach your meaning to what the author never meant to convey. Brock, you said, The Bible, itself, is an expression of the Tradition of the early church. We know that because the Church was established before the first page of the NT was even written and was definitely established before the last book of the NT was written. And as we previously discussed, the Church was around for 350 years before the Bible was even canonized.

Brock, this is simply untrue. The canon of scripture began to form in the very early days that the Bible was being written, before the Catholic church ever existed. Luke’s Gospel was recognized as scripture within a few years of its writing (1 Timothy 5:18 quotes Luke 10:7 as scripture) Paul’s writings were also recognized as scripture during his own day (2 Peter 3:16, 1 Corinthians 14:37).

Yes, Chad, the canon began to form before it was finally canonized in 397. However, as I have already stated, there was much controversy over what was inspired and what was not until Pope Damasus I settled the issue in 382, 393, and 397 A.D. at the councils of Rome, Hippo and Carthage. After this, the canon (the Catholic Bible) was the same for 1100 years until Martin Luther threw out those 7 books on his own authority because they disagreed with his theology. What authority did Martin Luther have to do such a thing? Secondly, the Church did come before the Bible, Chad. I do not know how you can even dispute this. We read about the Church Jesus founded in its infancy in Acts. We also know, through Tradition, that the first book of the N.T. was not written for at least 10 years later and the last book was not written for more than 40-60 years later. Question: Can you have the Church without the Bible? Yes or no? Can you have the Bible without the Church? Yes or no? I believe that you are wrong when you say, that the Bible was canonized before the Catholic Church existed. I would submit to you, Chad, that the Catholic Church is the Church founded by Christ. I am curious to know when you believe the Catholic Church began? I bet you will say something along the lines of when Constantine came into the historical picture. If this is so, please provide evidence to support your claims.

Some questions to consider while doing so are: Did the early Christians believe in the same doctrines? In other words, did they teach one doctrine that was to be believed by the Church? Did they believe in the authority of the Church? Did they believe that the bishop of Rome was prime over all other churches? Did they worship like Catholics of today? Did they believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist? Did they believe that oral tradition would cease with the death of the last apostle or did they believe in apostolic succession? Now, it is true that 1 Timothy quotes Luke 10:7 as Scripture. Also, Peter does say that Paul’s writings are Scripture in 2 Peter 3. However, there are some questions to consider. In 1 Corinthians 5:9, St. Paul says that he wrote a previous letter to the Corinthians about not associating with immoral men. But wait a minute! The Bible only contains 2 letters to the Corinthians. Apparently, Paul wrote more letters…at least 3 that we know of. Yet one of these epistles to the Corinthians is not in the Bible. Was this letter not important? He also wrote many other epistles that are contained in the N.T. Which is Peter talking about? How do you know he is not talking about the 3rd missing letter to the Corinthians that actually came before 1 Corinthians? The answer is, you do not! Neither do I. The Bible does not answer this question. Plus, look at 2 Thessalonians 2:1:2: Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our assembling to meet him, we beg you, brethren, not to be quickly shaken in mind or excited, either by spirit or by word, or by letter purporting to be from us… Apparently, there were letters purporting to be from Paul and the other disciples in which the Thessalonians believed to be from them. History also attests to this because we also know that the Corinthians believed the Letter of Clement to be inspired Scripture. However, it is not in the Bible either. So, whether Scripture quotes other N.T. or O.T. Scriptures does nothing to defend the Sola Scriptura position because the question still remains. Which books are to be included and which books are not?

Brock, you said, This brings me to another topic that we briefly talked about. Like you, I am a student of the Bible, Christian History, Logic, Theology, etc. You stated that the Bible consists of 66 Books (39 books of the OT and 27 books of the NT). This would be somewhere that I believe we would disagree. I believe and history shows us that the Bible is composed of 73 books (46 OT and 27 NT). In fact, when you look into the history of the early Church, you will see that for 1100 years, the OT consisted of the 46 books that are in the Catholic Bible’s OT. It was not until the Reformation, in which Martin Luther, threw out those 7 books which were Tobit, Judith, Baruch, Sirach, Wisdom, 1 Maccabees, and 2 Maccabees. A little study of the early Church shows that the Christians widely accepted those books for the vast majority of Christian history. This statement right here I believe needs some qualification to it. If you mean that the Christians widely accepted those books because they were useful for devotional and historical purposes, then I would probably agree with you. One can demonstrate respect for a book without canonizing it. But, if you mean that Christians widely accepted those books because they were inspired writings, I would disagree with you. The Roman Catholic Church decided these books belonged in the Bible shortly after the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. In fact, the Council of Trent canonized these books some 1500 years after they were written, largely as a reaction against the Protestant Reformation.

Here is my qualification. From 397 until the 16th century (1100 years to be conservative), the Bible consisted of 73 O.T. books. 1100 years…as opposed to the last 400 years since the protestant reformation. Given these numbers, Chad, would you say the vast majority of these Christian years would be on the 400 or 1100 year side? The 1100 year side! That would be counted as the vast majority wouldn’t you say? Secondly, when you look before 382 A.D., there is still much dispute over which books are inspired and there was no set canon. It simply is not there. Thirdly, Trent officially declared the deuterocanonical books part of the canon infallibly once and for all because Martin Luther and his minions caused an uproar during the Reformation.


Did you notice that they omitted the Book of Revelation? Seems to still be no agreement among the canon. Also, did you notice that one of the 7 deuteroncanonical books is listed…Baruch? Hmm.


It remained that way for 1100 years, Chad, until the Martin Luther threw the 7 books out on his own. Notice, also, that this is the first time that all 27 books of the N.T. were listed completely without one of the Epistles or Revelation excluded. Why do you accept the authority of the Catholic Church to canonize the N.T. but not the O.T., especially when I’ve shown so much dispute among books in general in the Bible? This rips a gigantic hole in your statement about the Council of Trent. What this tells me, Chad, is this: You, like I was and so many others are still, are ignorant to what the Church calls development of dogma. Please understand this. I am not saying you are stupid. It is quite clear from our conversations that you are an intelligent person. What I mean by ignorant is that you, like I once was, are simply uneducated or misinformed on this matter. The Church simply restated what the Church has always taught and believed, and only formally defines dogma when there is a dispute resulting in possible schism or heresy.

Though it is true that some early church leaders quoted several of the apocryphal books as Scripture, it is also true that many early church leaders rejected these books. One of the earliest Christian lists of OT books is that of Melito, the bishop of Sardis, who in A.D. 170 affirmed all the OT books (except Esther) but did not mention a single apocryphal book. Moreover, in A.D. 367 the great champion of orthodoxy, Athanasius (a bishop of Alexandria), wrote his “paschal letter”, in which he listed all the books of the NT and all the OT books except Esther. Although, he did also mention some of the apocryphal books, such as the Wisdom of Solomon, the Wisdom of Sirach, Judith, and Tobit, he said these are …NOT INDEED INCLUDED IN THE CANON, BUT APPOINTED BY THE FATHERS TO BE READ BY THOSE WHO NEWLY JOIN US, AND WHO WISH FOR INSTRUCTION IN THE WORD OF GODLINESS.

It is true that many early church leaders quoted and believed the deuterocanonical books as inspired Scripture, and it is also true that many early church fathers rejected some, not all of the deuterocanonical books. Either way, this proves nothing for your position. Why do I say that? I say that because these same fathers of the early church also believed that the Shepherd of Hermas, Clements Letter to the Corinthians, and others were inspired Scripture and therefore should be included into the N.T. There were also those who simply rejected some of the books of the N.T. as we have it today. Some rejected Revelation. Others that were rejected were James, Jude, 2 and 3 John, etc. Until these fourth century councils, Chad, there was much dispute among Christians (Catholics) on what was inspired and what was not. After the Church spoke in these councils, other known fathers of the Church, as a matter of their own personal opinion, would not have considered them canonical. However, each one that stated this also said that SO SAYETH ROME. In other words, the Church has spoken further illustrating the supreme authority of Jesus’ Church. We can discuss this more later if you would like.

Unlike the New Testament books, which claim to be inspired (2 Timothy 3:16, 2 Peter 1:21, 1 Timothy 5:18, 2 Peter 3:16) none of the apocryphal books claim to be inspired. Further, no apocryphal book was written by a true prophet or apostle of God. And no apocryphal book was confirmed by divine miracles, something that happened often with the prophets in the OT and apostles in the NT (see 1 Kings 18 and Hebrews 2:4). Finally, no apocryphal book contains predictive prophecy, which would serve to confirm divine inspiration.

I dealt with this issue in great detail in part 1 of my response. Bottom line, Chad, is: so what? Where does the Gospel of Mark claim to be inspired? It doesn’t! So, what if it did? Are you saying that we should believe a book is inspired just because it says it is? The Koran says it’s inspired, does that make it so? Of course not! Not all O.T. books are quoted from the N.T. Not all the books in the Bible were written by Apostles or Prophets. Was Luke an Apostle or Prophet? Was Mark? Did either one of these guys perform a single miracle? Not all writers of the Bible performed miracles. Here’s something for you to think about. When was Genesis written down? It was written hundreds of years after these events happened. Tradition says, and Protestants as well as Catholics affirm, that Moses wrote the first 5 books of the Bible. Yet, Moses wrote these hundreds of years later, after they happened. How would Moses know about these events? Events such as The Fall, Noah, Abraham, etc? One word, Tradition. I will deal more with this issue below. However, you quoted Hebrews 2:4. Did you read what the very first verse said? Therefore, we must pay the closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. Heard, not read. Preaching, not reading. Oral Tradition. This is what the Catholic Church says Sacred Tradition is…The very Word of God.

One other issue to think about is that no new testament writer ever quoted from the apocryphal books as scripture or gave them the slightest authority as inspired books. Jesus virtually ignored these books which would have not been the case had he considered them scripture. We see Jesus many times quoting scripture from the OT, but never once from the apocryphal books. If they are inspired scripture, why does Jesus NOT give his stamp of approval for them?

You say that no N.T. writer ever quoted from these books. First, that’s not true. Second, even if it was, so what? In my part 1 response, I listed several O.T. books not quoted at all in the N.T. Your statement above proves nothing for the Sola Scriptura position. Third, in part 1, I also listed quotes and allusions to the deuterocanonical books from the N.T. writers. Fourth, why does Jesus NOT give his stamp of approval on Obadiah, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Zephaniah, Esther, Judges, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Lamentations, and Nahum by quoting them? Fifth, Jesus does provide us with an allusion to Tobit 7:18 in Matthew 11:25: Lord of heaven and earth… This is what Tobit 7:18 says: Be brave, my child; the Lord of heaven and earth grant you joy… In Matthew 7:16,20, Jesus’ quote of You will know them by their fruits… alludes to Sirach 27:6: The fruit discloses the cultivation. Take a look at Hebrews 11:35. This passage from Hebrews very definitely is quoting from 2 Maccabees 7, which is not in your Protestant OT but is in the Catholic OT. As you stated yesterday, the Bible is not self-authenticating. In other words, we do not believe that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God just because the Bible says so. If we did, then we would have to believe that the Koran was also inspired because it says so. We both know that the Koran is NOT inspired. But what authority are we relying on to tell us what the Bible is in the first place? Was it not the Catholic Church that wrote, and preserved the Scriptures throughout the first 15 centuries of the Church? All my research points to the Catholic Church as canonizing the Bible. And you said,

Again, you need to qualify this statement, are you saying that the Catholic church determined the canon or discovered it? One view places the Catholic church as authority over the canon which is an incorrect view. I agree that the catholic church played a major role in the process, but some like to give it a greater role than it actually has. To quote F. F. Bruce, “The NT canon was not demarcated by the arbitrary decree of a council: When at last a church council – the Synod of Carthage in AD 397 – listed the 27 books of the NT, it did not confer upon them any authority which they did not already possess, but simply recorded their previously established canonicity.”

I am saying both! I am sorry, but the burden of proof is on you, Chad, to qualify your belief that it wasn’t the Catholic Church who wrote, and preserved the Sacred Scriptures. There was simply no other church around. I will ask you again. Can you have the Church without the Bible? This should be an easy answer because the answer is “yes”. We had the Church without the Bible for 350 years. Yes, we had the Scriptures that make up the Bible as we know it, but we also had other writings claiming inspiration and were believed to be inspired. So, officially, there was no “Bible” for 350 years after the death and ascension of Jesus. Next, Mr. Bruce’s statement, not withstanding, is not necessarily true as I have shown. There was much confusion as to what was Scripture. How can these books possess authority over Christians when Christians were confused as to which of these books held authority? As to which books were actually the inspired, inerrant Word of God? Next, what role do you believe the Catholic Church played in the canonization process? And why do you believe that? Also, realize that the majority of the population was illiterate. Most people could not read so how was the Bible going to be beneficial to them without a proper guide to read and interpret the Scriptures for them? Then as time passed, the monks of the Catholic Church copied down all the manuscripts by hand and distributed it to all the Catholic Churches around the world. There was no printing press and these manuscripts were copied down onto sheep velum. The Velum was extremely expensive. It was reported to be worth 3 years wages. So not everyone could afford a Bible. This is why the Catholic Church has all those stained glass windows, paintings, and statues depicting Bible stories. It was the Bible for the poor and for those who could not read. And because these Bibles were so expensive, the Church chained them to the pulpit so no one would steal them. 3 years wages left on the table! It would have been gone in a second. I said, The other topic related to this was whether the Word of God was given to us in written or oral form. I said yesterday that God’s Word should not be reduced to just its written form. And you said,

Written transmission can be tested and verified in a way that oral transmission cannot. We have numerous manuscript evidence that points to the reliability of the written record. We cannot test oral transmission this way. Remember the telephone game? Where one person whispers something to someone and then to someone else then at the end it resembles nothing like what was originally said.

So, what we are really talking about, Chad, whether you will admit this or not, is simply a lack of faith in Christ to protect His Church and Her teachings as passed down from the Apostles. A lack of faith in Christ promise in Matthew 28:18-20 when He says All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age. Could the Holy Spirit, through the Catholic Church, have guided the bishops – which are the successors to the Apostles – in accurately and faithfully passing on the Traditions that Paul taught by “word of mouth”? Yes or no? And if these Apostolic teachings or Traditions were passed on faithfully from one generation to the next, shouldn’t we consider them to also be the word of God? Yes or no? I said, The Bible clearly tells us that we should hold fast to both the written and the oral transmission of God’s Word (2 Thessalonians 2:15). And you said,

Brock, you are using these verses as “proof texts” for for your point of view which I would challenge you to be careful of. At first glance, 2 Thessalonians 2:15 might seem to support your position. Brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or be letter from us. Notice the critically important words, “from us” (that is the apostles). Paul was talking to people he had personally taught as an apostle of God. Paul had earlier passed down some apostolic teachings about the 2nd coming of Christ to the Thessalonian church which is the context of this letter and Paul reminds them to hold firm to those things. The apostles for a time communicated their teachings orally until those teachings could be permanently recorded in written form. Once the apostles committed their teachings to written form, and then died, the written scriptures alone became our final authority for matters of faith and practice (2 Timothy 3: 15-17).

Proof texts? No, my brother, I am not. This interpretation fits in perfectly with the other passages of the N.T. (and therefore, the O.T.) that I listed in which you completely ignored. I am afraid that you have engaged in a little eisegesis. You want me to believe that Paul is saying that everything that he preached orally is contained in those 2 very short letters of his? That’s not logical, Chad. Again, look at 2 Thessalonians 2:2. There were other letters claiming to be from Paul that the Thessalonians actually believed to be from Paul, and Paul authoritatively tells them to ignore those “purported” letters. Now, you might say, “No, I am talking about 1 Thessalonians.” Again, what do we find Paul saying there? 1 Thessalonians 2:13. And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God… Also, look at 1 Corinthians 15:1,11: Now I would remind you, brethren, in what terms I preached to you the gospel, which you received, in which you stand, by which you hold it fast – unless you believed in vain…Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed. Again, what the Corinthians heard by Paul’s preaching, not read. Listen to Jesus’ words in Luke 10:16: He who hears you (The Apostles), hears me. Constantly, the N.T. is speaking of the living voice of the Church, not just Sacred Scripture.

There are so many passages that thoroughly refute your interpretation and belief that all Oral Tradition was eventually written down and that it is not the word of God. 1 Corinthians 11:2, I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you. Scripture says that these Traditions both oral and written are the very Word of God! Further, St. Paul actually commends them for keeping those oral Traditions. Now, you believe that the first 5 books of the O.T. are inspired Scripture don’t you? I do as well. But why do you believe that? Moses wrote Genesis down hundreds of years after the fact. He was not there during those times to witness it for himself. The only way Moses knew about those were through Tradition. Remember the telephone game? Could these Traditions have changed before Moses heard them? Absolutely. Did they? According to your logic, they had to have because God’s people are incapable of faithfully and accurately passing on those oral Traditions. But you won’t actually admit that, will you? Of course not! Because you believe, as I do, that those oral Traditions were accurately and faithfully passed down to Moses and he accurately wrote them down… You believe that the book of Genesis is inspired Scripture, even though it was oral Tradition passed down from hundreds of years. What’s the difference, Chad? The difference is that you have been born into a tradition of men that began around the Protestant Reformation. I challenge you (a friendly challenge) to provide me with quotes from Scripture supporting Sola Scriptura and from the early church. It is my contention that no one believed as you do before the Reformation regarding Sola Scriptura. Not one single church father ever professed that the Bible is the sole authority for a Christian. As Patrick Madrid once said, Sola Scriptura is unhistorical, unbiblical, and unworkable!

[Chad says farewell:] I have enjoyed this dialogue. I hope to continue discussing the things of God with you. I really do enjoy discussing view points with people that are different from mine. It helps me see if there is a flaw in my thinking as well as understand those who hold to a different position. Feel free to point out any flaws that I may have overlooked. Hope to see you soon. CHAD

Again, Chad, thank you for your time. I just want to say that I appreciate your thoughtfulness and willingness to discuss these matters. I also want to reiterate that I do not mean any disrespect in my responses. I am very direct out of respect for both our time and intellect. Please remember that emails are poor conveyors of tone and that I am saying these words with the utmost charity and respect as I know you are. I really like you and hope that we can become good friends and hope to continue discussing these matters further. Thanks again, for blessing me with your love and respect. I hope you have a great rest of the week. Please continue to pray for me and pray about these things I have written. I want to leave you with a quote from the early 2nd century father, Papias, from Eusebius’s History of the Church, book 3, chapter 39: HE SHOWS, IN FACT, BY THE LANGUAGE HE USES, THAT HE RECEIVED THE DOCTRINES OF THE FAITH THROUGH ACQUAINTANCES OF THE APOSTLES… (Eusebius) From Papias: I SHALL NOT HESITATE TO SET DOWN FOR YOU ALONG WITH MY INTERPRETATIONS WHATEVER I LEARNED WELL FROM THE PRIESTS AND RECALL CLEARLY, BEING THOROUGHLY CONFIDENT OF THEIR TRUTH… IT DID NOT SEEM TO ME THAT I COULD GET SO MUCH PROFIT FROM THE CONTENTS OF BOOKS AS FROM A LIVING AND ABIDING VOICE. What “living and abiding voice” is Papias talking about?

In Christ,

Brock Restovich
The Catholic Legate
July 1, 2011

A Second Response to William Webster on Esdras

Protestant apologist William Webster has finally responded to the article I wrote in 2004, entitled Esdras & The Early Church: A Response to William Webster.  Yet unfortunately this ‘response’ is essentially a re-posting of his original material that fails to substantiate his assertions and repeatedly misrepresents or ignores what I wrote in my article. In this rebuttal I’d like to respond to the specific issues raised by Webster and addressed to me, along with a couple of others I find relevant to this matter.

ISSUE 1:   Original Sources & Canons

In his response to my article, Webster writes:

“While the sources cited by Betts…do list the Hebrew books of Ezra and Nehemiah as 1 and 2 Esdras, [he has] failed to provide [his] readers with some crucial information. That information has to do with the fact that those fathers who separate Ezra from Nehemiah into separate books and designate Ezra as 1 Esdras and Nehemiah as 2 Esdras are following the Hebrew canon. They do not follow what we will call the Septuagint canon, which means the Hebrew Old Testament books with the additional books of the apocrypha.” [1]

The history of the formation of the Biblical Canon, opinions of Church Fathers and other early Christians regarding the status of the Deuterocanonicals, along with most other related issues were not addressed by my article nor are they necessarily germane to the matter at hand.  However, even though such was stated as being beyond the scope of my article, after reviewing the evidence from these early witnesses I did state the following:

“Webster himself in his book, and in his online articles, quotes all of these sources as evidence for the so-called Hebrew OT canon.”

The witness these early sources provide on what “two books of Esdras” signifies is what is relevant [2].  Where Webster tries to dismiss the witness of these early sources by limiting the practice only to those who “followed the Hebrew canon”, the sources themselves speak of a tradition among Christians without such qualifications and one as far as I’m aware of that is not challenged by anyone in the early Church.  This includes those Webster cites as having “followed the expanded Septuagint canon”. Let’s review perhaps the two most important:  Origen, an advocate of the LXX, and St. Jerome, an advocate of the so-called Hebrew Canon [3].  As I wrote in my article:

Contrary to what Webster claims, the division of Ezra-Nehemiah into two separate books did not originate with Jerome’s Vulgate in the late 4th and early 5th centuries, but came much earlier. The respected early 3rd century biblical scholar Origen over one hundred years before Jerome “knew this material as two books in Greek”.  The custom of dividing Ezra-Nehemiah seems to have come from Christian sources, not Jewish ones who continued to maintain the unity of these books up until the 15th century.  When exactly this custom arose among Christians is not known.  Both Origen and Jerome list these books in such a manner as if this division of Ezra-Nehemiah in the Greek were a long-standing custom and not something that originated with either of them.  Eusebius in his Ecclesiastical History quotes from Origen listing canonical books “as the Hebrews have handed them down”, where Origen writes “Esdras, first and second in one, Ezra, that is, ‘an assistant'”.  Jerome in his Preface to Samuel and Kings lists this book as “the eighth, Ezra, which itself is likewise divided amongst Greeks and Latins into two books”.  Notice that Jerome does not say anything about dividing them himself or dropping 1 (3) Esdras from the Church’s canon. Origen also doesn’t say anything like this either.

Origen is the earliest known witness to the fact that, unlike the Jews, Christians divided our canonical Ezra-Nehemiah into two separate books and named them 1 and 2 Esdras.  The Canon list he gave came from the Jews (“as the Hebrews have handed them down”) but Origen also gives the names Christians use for the books of the Old Testament, including how the books of Esdras are divided. St. Jerome about a hundred years later also witnesses to this tradition “amongst Greeks and Latins” in his Preface to Samuel and Kings as mentioned above.  In his Preface to Ezra, which I did not have access to at the time I wrote my article, he writes:

“No one ought to be bothered by the fact that my edition consists of only one book, nor ought anyone take delight in the dreams found in the apocryphal third and fourth books. For among the Hebrews the texts of Ezra and Nehemiah comprise a single book, and those texts which are not used by them and are not concerned with the twenty-four elders ought to be rejected outright.” [4]

While Webster still claims that St. Jerome “was responsible for separating Ezra and Nehemiah to be designated as 1 and 2 Esdras respectively as separate books”, from the Saint’s own writings we find that he did the exact opposite rendering Webster’s claim to be erroneous. I do not dispute that Webster is probably correct that St. Jerome is the first to have labeled “Esdras A” from the LXX as “3 Esdras” and the Apocalypse of Ezra as “4 Esdras” in his Vulgate.  That isn’t the issue, which instead is whether St. Jerome first divided Ezra-Nehemiah into 1 & 2 Esdras or whether there already existed a tradition of dividing our canonical Ezra-Nehemiah into two books and labeling them as 1 and 2 Esdras in both Greek and Latin translations prior to when Webster claims.  As I’ve shown, Origen, St. Jerome and others provide witness to the fact that this tradition clearly was in existence and used by many in the Church.  Interestingly enough, Webster contradicts himself in his response when he concedes this fact:

“[T]here are historical instances of other fathers in the Church prior to Hippo/Carthage who used the Septuagint and who separated Ezra and Nehemiah into separate books referring to them as 1 Esdras and 2 Esdras respectively.”

Webster attempts to dismiss the importance of this by alluding that this wasn’t the “dominant practice” at the time.  He may be correct in this, yet this doesn’t address the fact that these sources referred to the LXX or to versions like the Old Latin in separating Ezra-Nehemiah, and whether such was a “dominant practice” or not isn’t relevant to Webster proving his main thesis.

ISSUE 2Early Fathers & Esdras

Webster writes:

“What Betts fails to mention here is these sources also considered 1 Esdras to be inspired scripture.”

What Webster says here simply isn’t true. I wrote in my article:

“Given the amount of material in 1 (3) Esdras from our canonical books despite changes, in addition to the story of the three bodyguards, it isn’t surprising that many of the early Fathers saw this apocryphal work as being another version of our canonical Ezra-Nehemiah.”

An observant reader would note that I just essentially said here what Webster claims I “fail[ed] to mention”, i.e. that many early Fathers saw 1 (3) Esdras as being “inspired scripture”.  I do attach an important caveat that this work was probably viewed by many of them as being a recension of our canonical Ezra-Nehemiah.  This is no different than how St. Augustine viewed the Greek and Hebrew versions of the Book of Jonah, as he writes about in his City of God 18.44.  For these early Fathers, David A. deSilva notes that:

[1 (3) Esdras] appears to have exercised an influence chiefly on account of the episode that it does not share with Ezra-Nehemiah: the contest of the three bodyguards.  Zerubbabel’s discourse on truth, predictably, is the most frequently quoted part of the book: Clement of Alexandria (Stromata 1.21), Origen, Cyprian, Eusebius, Athanasius, Ambrose, Ephrem the Syrian, John Chrysostom, and John of Damascus all refer to or quote this passage; Augustine (Dei civitate Dei 18.36) quotes 1 Esd. 3:12, also for the sake of the reference there to truth being the strongest.  As far as the early church authorities were concerned, it seems that it was the new material in 1 Esdras that was considered most useful; for the rest, they preferred Ezra-Nehemiah.  The court tale thus emerges in fact as the primary reason for both the book’s composition and its preservation. [5]

Webster cites in his response Fr. Raymond Brown, who is probably correct when he writes that St. Jerome “with his love for the Hebr bible set the precedent for rejecting I Esdras because it did not conform to Hebr Ezr/Neh”, but such does not help Webster in addressing how the apocryphal Esdras was viewed as a recension of Ezra-Nehemiah nor the early Christian tradition of dividing the canonical work and naming the two books 1 & 2 Esdras.

ISSUE 3:  St. Augustine & Esdras

Webster writes:

“Augustine did not follow the Hebrew canon. He followed the ‘Septuagintial plus’. Betts keeps saying that it seems more reasonable to assume that he did not accept Septuagint 1 Esdras as being canonical. He says that nothing definitive can be defined. But he has no proof that a church father who viewed the Septuagint as inspired and who accepted all of the apocryphal books as inspired and did not follow the Hebrew canon suddenly changed and followed the Hebrew canon.”

I said a couple of things in my article that are relevant here:

“The Esdras material – either the canonical or the apocryphal books – belonged to a small number of Scriptural books that St. Augustine rarely quoted. In fact, among St. Augustine’s numerous writings there exists only one citation and one allusion to canonical Esdras, nothing from canonical Nehemiah, and only one other citation of 1 (3) Esdras.[6]”

This fact is important to remember given what Webster is attempting to establish from such little evidence.

Did St. Augustine consider 1 (3) Esdras to be canonical? He probably considered it to be another version of the canonical Ezra-Nehemiah, as many of the Fathers who quoted it before him did. However it is very doubtful that he considered it to be canonical in the manner Webster would have us believe, i.e. that because the major Septuagint codices list this book as “Esdras A” and Ezra-Nehemiah as “Esdras B”, it therefore was a separate book counted in the Canon. Given the scant use of this material in St. Augustine’s writings, this cannot be resolved with all certainty, but mine seems like the more reasonable explanation. For Webster to claim otherwise he will have to offer some substantial proof which so far he has failed to do.

An observant reader will note that I stated St. Augustine “probably considered [1 (3) Esdras] to be Scripture” as a recension of the canonical Ezra-Nehemiah.  What Webster has failed to demonstrate thus far is that St. Augustine viewed the apocryphal Esdras as distinct from Ezra-Nehemiah in the Canon, which is crucial in proving his thesis.  Webster errs in attempting to shift the burden of proof about St. Augustine’s view of the apocryphal Esdras.  I am not the one claiming that St. Augustine believed that the apocryphal Esdras was distinct from our canonical Ezra-Nehemiah and given his influence in North Africa therefore this means Hippo & Carthage followed his opinion.  This claim is made by Webster and is his to substantiate, which he has once again failed to do.

In my article I showed that, while St. Augustine “highly favored the Septuagint versions and defended their use”, he also was “clearly familiar with St. Jerome’s commentaries on Scripture and he agreed with many of St. Jerome’s opinions”, along with “accepting the differences between the Septuagint versions and the Hebrew”. [7] For some reason Webster believes that what I cited from P. Benoit is a “much needed corrective”:

Benoit states that for St. Augustine “both the Hebrew and the Greek texts are inspired and true. They are accepted as two stages intended by God in his ongoing revelation. Origen wanted as canonical only the Greek text, leaving the Hebrew for the Jews. Jerome wanted only the Hebrew, reducing the Greek to a less accurate tradition. Augustine retained the two as different, complementary, and desired versions of the same Spirit. It is a vision of singular depth and truth.” [8]

Yet despite what Webster says in his response, there is no contradiction between what Benoit stated and what I wrote in my article.  I never claimed nor even implied that St. Augustine “follow[ed] the Hebrew canon”.  What I did say was that he accepted both the Greek and the Hebrew texts as being inspired.  That differs from what Webster himself wrote in his book and he leaps to all sorts of irrational conclusions in attempting to prove his thesis.  In my article I gave examples where St. Augustine strongly criticized St. Jerome’s work where he thought the latter had erred yet somehow when it came to Esdras “it seems to have escaped St. Augustine’s attention that St. Jerome supposedly dropped an entire book from the Canon and divided another into two in his Vulgate translation”.  How sensible is that?

ISSUE 4:  Hippo, Carthage & Trent

Webster’s thesis that I took issue with in my article was that Carthage and Trent differed on the books of Esdras in the Canon.  He may believe that his claim is the “more reasonable explanation” of the available evidence but such does not prove his thesis.  His conclusion simply is not shown from the premise he makes.  The fact that the North African Church used the LXX, that St. Augustine favored the LXX and was influential North Africa and that the major codices had the apocryphal Esdras as “Esdras A” and Ezra-Nehemiah as “Esdras B”, does not automatically lead one to conclude or prove that Hippo and Carthage differed from Trent. That is an assumption, nothing more, which doesn’t even address any of the points I raised.  It is also dangerously close to being a logical fallacy as he seems to preclude the possibility of another alternative in both his book and his response.  There is an old saying that “he who asserts must prove”.  While Webster has asserted his claim, he has failed to prove it.  In order to do so, Webster will need to show that Carthage didn’t have the Christian tradition of separating Ezra-Nehemiah into two books and calling them 1 & 2 Esdras in mind when it passed its decree on the Canon.  As I wrote in my article:

“Webster has no proof that when the Synods of Hippo and Carthage listed the “two books of Esdras” they had the apocryphal 1 (3) Esdras in mind as the first of these. When we examine the history of the Biblical Canon from Hippo in the late 4th century on until Trent in the mid-16th century, we find no evidence of a change in the books of Esdras that are listed in the Canon.”

As it should have been clear in my original article, while this matter is intriguing historically it isn’t the apologetics ‘coup’ against Catholics that Webster seems to believe it is.  Even if one assumed his contention were correct, which I myself find highly doubtful, as I stated in my article both Hippo and Carthage “provide an important witness to the Catholic Canon but were regional councils whose canons were not binding on the whole Church”.  It is important to remember that “the clearest decree from the Church which removed all doubt for Catholics on which books belonged in the Biblical Canon came from the mid-16th century Ecumenical Council of Trent”.  For this reason Catholics can entertain the possibility that Webster’s thesis is correct, however unproven it may be, while finding no conflict in the teachings of the Church on the books of the Biblical Canon.

Webster criticizes Gary Michuta’s statement that Trent passed over the apocryphal Esdras in silence as being “clearly untrue”, but Webster is the one who is mistaken not Michuta.  While I’ll leave this to Michuta to respond to more fully, I would like to briefly address the matter.  By the 16th century, undoubtedly under the influence of St. Jerome’s Vulgate, the apocryphal Esdras and canonical Ezra-Nehemiah were clearly viewed as being distinct books.  As Henry Jedin notes, this apocryphal book wasn’t the only work passed over in silence by Trent:

The fourteen dubia of the last general congregation had been handed to all the Fathers on 29 March, but Del Monte, who presided once more on 1 April, did not strictly abide by the decision then taken of voting with a simple Yes or No, but allowed further discussions, though as brief as possible, of the subject-matter.  In point of fact, these were called for by the very wording of the dubia.  Particular questions with regard to the canon of the Bible (2-5, 12) created no serious difficulties – for example, whether the longer conclusion of Mark, Luke XXII, 43 f., John VIII, I-II, should not be excepted; whether, for purposes of control, the number of chapters of each individual book should be given; whether the Apocrypha usually found in the editions of the Vulgate, namely 3 and 4 Esdras, and Machabees, should be expressly rejected or passed over in silence; whether the book of Psalms should bear David’s name as its author. [9]

Does this mean that 1 (3) Esdras could be added to the Canon at some future date?  Although a layman myself, such would seem to be an impossibility with Webster and I finding some agreement on this.  Yet this has been a matter of theoretical speculation by some Catholic theologians, with no clear answers.  As A.E. Breen notes:

The book [1 (3) Esdras] is not absolutely rejected by the Church in the Council of Trent, and she permits its reading.  There would be no difficulty in approving its portions wherein it accords with the aforesaid canonical books, but there are internal defects in its original chapters in point of doctrine, which will probably forever prevent it from entering upon the estate of canonical books. [10]

Finally, I should note that there is one item which Webster quoted from my article that I made an oversight on in editing.  I wrote that “the decree on the Canon passed by Trent was deliberately intended to be the same as that from Carthage centuries earlier” when I meant to say the Ecumenical Council of Florence and that the Tridentine Fathers saw no difference between their Canon and that of Carthage. [11]

ISSUE 5:  Popes & Esdras

As he does this in his book, Webster repeats his startling claim in the portion of his response directed to Gary Michuta that various popes until at least the 5th century upheld the apocryphal Esdras as being part of the Canon of Scripture:

[W]hen the Council of Carthage gave its list of canonical books for the Old Testament it followed the Septuagint translation. In referring to Esdras I and II it was referring to I and II Esdras of the Septuagint. And when Carthage sent these decrees to Rome for confirmation, it was these books which were confirmed as canonical. Innocent I affirmed this in his letter to Exuperius and they were later included in the decrees of Popes Gelasius and Hormisdas… This contradicts the decree passed by Trent which followed Jerome in assigning I and II Esdras to the canonical Hebrew books of Ezra and Nehemiah respectively. Therefore, Trent declared noncanonical what the Council of Carthage and the bishops of Rome, in the fourth, fifth and sixth centuries, declared to be canonical.

I addressed this absurd claim by Webster in my article:

Webster further asserts that Pope Innocent I in his Letter to Exuperius [28], as well as Popes Gelasius I (492-496 A.D.) and Hormisdas (514-523 A.D.) [29], all “contradicted” Trent by ‘accepting’ the apocryphal Esdras supposedly adopted at Hippo and Carthage.  There is no basis, other than pure wishful thinking, for Webster to make such a claim.

Referenced endnotes from my article:

[28] “A brief addition shows what books really are received in the canon.  These are the desiderata of which you wished to be informed verbally:  of Moses five books, that is, of Genesis, of Exodus, of Leviticus, of Numbers, of Deuteronomy, and Josue, of Judges one book, of Kings four books, and also Ruth, of the Prophets sixteen books, of Solomon five books, the Psalms.  Likewise of the histories, Job one book, of Tobias one book, Esther one, Judith one, of the Machabees two, of Esdras two, Paralipomenon two books…” Pope Innocent I’s Letter to Exuperius, translation from [The Sources of Catholic Dogma (Herder & Co., 1954), Henry] Denzinger, p. 42.

Note that Innocent wrote this letter in 405 A.D., the same year the Vulgate was completed by Jerome and one year before the latter’s Letter Against Vigilantius wherein he claims that 1 (3) Esdras is not received by the Church.  No move is made by Innocent to correct Jerome, nor is there any evidence that the pope adopted Jerome’s supposed innovation as opposed to the purported traditional one on 1 (3) Esdras [meaning apocryphal Esdras as “1 Esdras” and Ezra-Nehemiah as “2 Esdras”].

[29] [The Old Testament Canon And The Apocrypha (Christian Resources, 2001), William Webster,] pp. 116-117 provides the Latin text from Migne’s edition on the Latin Fathers.  In endnote 110 of [Webster’s book], we find from PL 59:157 Gelasius I listing “Esdrae liber unus”, or “Esdras one book”.  Webster assumes from this somehow that Gelasius had in mind the apocryphal Esdras.  Yet nowhere does he give examples of 1 (3) Esdras listed in the Canon by itself at this time, or that “Esdrae liber unus” ever meant 1 (3) Esdras and Ezra-Nehemiah joined together.  All the witnesses we have seen listing Esdras as one book in their canon are referring to Ezra-Nehemiah, and not 1 (3) Esdras.  Furthermore, a list from a late 5th century pope, before whose time the Vulgate had long been received and was widely known, is a bit late to make the assumption Webster does without further substantiation.  In endnote 111 of [Webster’s book], we find from PL 62:540 Hormisdas I listing “Esdrae libri II”, or “Esdras two books”.  Again, this pontificate in the early 6th century was long after the Vulgate had been received and was widely known.  We have already seen that Ezra-Nehemiah was known in the Greek as “1 Esdras” and “2 Esdras”, so Webster’s conjecture is not enough evidence here to make this claim.

Webster ignores my rebuttal and in his response continues to put forth his completely unsubstantiated claim.  Even if one assumes that Hippo and Carthage held to the “two books of Esdras” exactly as Webster claims, this says nothing about how the popes viewed the matter or interpreted the canons from these local synods.  I ask the reader, how has Webster proven his contention?  He again leaps to irrational conclusions based upon an assumption, not evidence which can be shown from any of the original sources he cites.


While Webster’s thesis is an intriguing possibility, it fails to deal with all the known evidence on the subject and has yet to be proven.  My explanation may or may not be correct but while I believe it is more reasonable, it really doesn’t matter as the burden of proof rests upon Webster and not me in this.  As I concluded in my article:

We know that the “1 Esdras” and “2 Esdras” found in the major LXX codices as the apocryphal Esdras and Ezra-Nehemiah, were also known to be Ezra and Nehemiah under the same names in other sources. This gives us no reason to suspect that the Synods of Hippo and Carthage when they spoke of the “two books of Esdras”, were referring to any other books than Ezra-Nehemiah. We’ve seen how it was common for the Fathers to cite 1 (3) Esdras, mainly for its story of the three bodyguards, and that it was considered to be an alternative version to the canonical Ezra-Nehemiah. Finally, we’ve seen how Webster’s ‘witness’, St. Augustine, was quite familiar with St. Jerome’s work and, though in some cases he agreed with it, in others he didn’t hesitate to chastise St. Jerome when he disagreed. From the Synod at Hippo to the Council of Trent there was continuous agreement on which books were the “two books of Esdras” [without any conclusive evidence showing a contradiction between the two]. Throughout all of this, we have not seen a single voice raised in protest against St. Jerome’s supposed innovations regarding the Esdras material nor any voice raised defense of the canonicity of apocryphal 1 (3) Esdras. All we have heard is the unmistakable sound of silence… For Webster’s claim to be given any credence, this is one objection with which he will have to deal. It is entirely reasonable and logical to expect more than silence here, while very unreasonable to ignore it.

John Betts
Catholic Apologist
May 7, 2007


[1] In his response, Webster summarized what he believes is the “gist” of my article and appends comments mine from Catholic apologist Art Sippo on the Envoy message board, who may have implicitly referenced my writing in making these remarks.  Since I did not cite Sippo nor relied upon his work for my article, whatever he may have said regarding this issue is not relevant here.

[2]  This comes from the Third Synod of Carthage in 397 AD (emphasis mine):

“Canon 36 (or otherwise 47). [It has been decided] that nothing except the Canonical Scriptures should be read in the church under the name of the Divine Scriptures. But the Canonical Scriptures are: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Number, Deuteronomy, Josue, Judges, Ruth, four books of Kings, Paralipomenon two books, Job, the Psalter, of David, five books of Solomon, twelve books of the Prophets, Isaias, Jeremias, Daniel, Ezechiel, Tobias, Judith, Esther, two books of Esdras, two books of the Machabees… Thus [it has been decided] that the Church beyond the sea may be consulted regarding the confirmation of that canon; also that it be permitted to read the sufferings of the martyrs, when their anniversary days are celebrated.” Henry Denzinger’s The Sources of Catholic Dogma (Herder & Co., 1954), pp. 39-40.

In my original article I referred to the canonical material as “Ezra-Nehemiah” mostly, but also as “canonical Esdras”. The apocryphal Esdras I referred to as “1 (3) Esdras” with the first number being the designation from the major Septuagint codices and the latter from the Vulgate. At times, I also referred to this material as “apocryphal Esdras”.

[3]  As noted in my article:

Although a more thorough discussion of this is beyond the scope of this article, I hold R. Timothy McLay’s view that there was no Hebrew canon “during the period of the Early Church” and that “Hebrew Jewish Scriptures” is more accurate.  McLay also argues there was no set Septuagint canon either and that “Greek Jewish Scriptures” is more accurate, but to avoid confusion I shall use the more familiar “Hebrew Canon” and “Septuagint” in this article.  See McLay’s excellent The Use of the Septuagint in New Testament Research (Eerdmans Publishing, 2003), pp. 7-9.

[4]  Translation found online at

[5]  Introducing the Apocrypha (Baker Academic, 2002), David A. deSilva, p. 284.

[6]  See Augustine and the Bible (University of Notre Dame Press, 1999), Pamela Bright,  42 & 50.

[7]  In my article I cited the following from Augustine and the Bible, pp. 46-47:

In the last section of The City of God, starting at Book 18, Augustine expands his position and we are surprised to read regarding the prophecy of Jonah: ‘But does someone object to the manner in which I knew what the prophet Jonah said to the citizens of Ninivah? Is it ‘in the three days Ninivah will be destroyed’ or in ‘forty days’? Who does not see that the prophet could not say the two at the same time when he was sent to threaten the city with imminent ruin? If the destruction should happen within three days, it is not forty days, and if it was forty days than it was certainly not three. If therefore someone asks me what I think about what Jonah said, I am of the opinion that which is read in the Hebrew; ‘In forty days Ninivah will be destroyed’. The Septuagint, coming much later, could say something else, while repeating the subject and concurring with it, but from another perspective to the same and only meaning. The reader was in this manner invited, without denigrating either of the two authorities to raise himself from the story in order to look for the reality, which the story itself means.’ Augustine shows that it is Christ himself by both the forty and the three days. All this occurs, he continues: ‘As if the Septuagint, prophets as much translators had wanted to alert the reader, entirely preoccupied with the sequence of events, from his stupor and inviting him to scrutinize the depth of the prophecy, had offered him in some way this language; ‘Look for the forty days even those you will find in three; You will find the first in his Ascension, the second in his resurrection’. It was thus with great suitability that Christ could be prefigured in the two numbers, one from Jonah the prophet and the other from the prophecy of the seventy interpreters which the unique and same Holy Spirit made known.’ (City of God 18.44)”

[8]  Augustine and the Bible, p. 47.

[9]  A History of the Council of Trent, Vol. II (Thomas Nelson & Sons, Ltd., 1961 English translation by Dom Ernest Graf), Henry Jedin, p. 81.

[10]  A General Introduction to Holy Scripture (Roman Catholic Books reprint of 1908 edition) A.E. Breen, p. 609.

[11]  For more on this and an excellent review of the proceedings of the Ecumenical Council of Trent about the Biblical Canon and Apostolic Tradition, I highly recommend Jedin’s A History of the Council of Trent, Vol. II, pp. 52-98.

The Deuterocanonical Books

The Bible is a collection of books written by different human authors over a period of more than one thousand years that are together considered the inspired written Word of God. Very few Christians today who study their Bible or hear it being proclaimed at Church worry about the authenticity of the books as being God’s written Word. They implicitly accept the validity of their church’s estimation of them or of Christianity’s use of them from time immemorial. Yet the canon of inspired Scripture did not just instantaneously come into being. It took time and involved some controversy to establish.

When we speak today of the “canon” of Scripture we mean those collected books accepted by Christians as inspired by God. The term “canon” comes from the Greek word kanon which means a “measuring stick” or a defining rule. It was used by the early Christians to mean a “measure” or “rule” by which to establish what is normative in the Church. It could be used to refer to behaviour but by the 4th century it especially referred to the collection of books belonging to Holy Scripture. There is no Jewish concept exactly corresponding to “canon” but Jewish authorities did speak of “what is read” and “the books” of Scripture in contrast to “the external books” or “books that render the hands unclean” (Joseph Lienhard, The Bible, the Church, and Authority, 1995).

Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Christians all esteem the Bible as the written Word of God. However, they do not all agree on which books make up the canon of Holy Scripture. There is general agreement on the 27 books of the New Testament. It is the canon of the Old Testament which is more disputed. The Catholic Bible has 46 books in the Old Testament (45 if we count Jeremiah and Lamentations as one) which when added to the 27 books of the New Testament gives a canon of 73 books. The various Orthodox churches have some differences amongst themselves in their canon. They all include the books found in the Catholic Bible but can have extra. The Greek Orthodox Church, for example, has an Old Testament of 49 books (48 if we count the Letter of Jeremiah as part of Baruch, as Catholics do) which when added to the New Testament gives a total of 76 books. The additional books not found in the Catholic Bible are I Esdras and 3 Maccabees. Additional passages incorporated into canonical books are the Prayer of Manassah and Psalm 151. The exact status of these additional books and passages in the various Orthodox churches, however, is not clear: are they considered divinely inspired or “ecclesiastical” writings? The Protestant version of the Bible has only 39 books in the Old Testament for a total of 66 books when combined with the New. The parts of the Old Testament not recognized by Protestants as Scripture are the books of Baruch, Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), 1 and 2 Maccabees, Tobit, Judith, and the Wisdom of Solomon plus the longer versions of Esther and Daniel found in Catholic and Orthodox Bibles. How did the differences in canons come about?

The process by which the books of the Bible were collected into a closed canon lasted for centuries. Our concern here is with only the Old Testament. According to most scholars the collection of Jewish Scriptures took place in three stages. By the 2nd century B.C. the books were in fact divided in three parts: the Law, the Prophets, and the (other) Writings. Jesus Himself refers to “the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms” (Lk 24:44). The first part is the Torah which is also called the Law or the Pentateuch. It was believed written by Moses and long accepted as supernaturally inspired and of divine authority. In fact, the Sadducees of Jesus’ day accepted only these books as divinely authoritative. According to patristics scholar Joseph Lienhard “the Torah, or Pentateuch, reached its final, closed form by 400 B.C., at the latest.”

The second grouping, the books of the Prophets, reached its final form by 200 B.C. The historical books of Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings are included by Jews under this category since believed either written by prophets or containing their lives. The last grouping, the Writings, was closed according to Lienhard, “in the course of the second century A.D.” In other words the Torah, comprising the five books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), was first to be “canonized.” The second part to be canonized was the Prophets. Prophecy was believed to have ceased during the time of Ezra (450 B.C.). Jewish and later Protestant apologists tried to claim the entire canon was closed by “the Great Synagogue” in Ezra’s time but historical research has shown this to be an anachronism, not attested to earlier than about A.D. 200.

The third group in the Jewish canon is the Writings. It is also the most diverse group and the last to be fixed. It includes a hymn book like Psalms, wisdom literature like Job and Proverbs, apocalyptic literature like the book of Daniel, and short books like Esther that were read at annual festivals. It was not closed until after the rise of Christianity and the destruction of the Second Temple in A.D. 70. These events motivated rabbis to a closer consideration as to what books were recognized as divinely authoritative, especially as Christians were now using Jewish Scriptures. This is often said to have happened at a “council” of rabbis held in Jamnia (Javneh) around A.D. 90 but the historical accuracy of this claim is questioned. What is known is that some time around the beginning of the second century A.D. Palestinian Jews closed for themselves the third group of Scriptures, and thus established the current Jewish canon that is recognized by Protestants as comprising the Old Testament in its entirety. The criteria used for including or excluding books are not known. Speaking speculatively it appears to have included: (1) the book having been written at or before the time of Ezra (2) having been written in Palestine, and (3) having been written in Hebrew.

What is evident is that before Christianity began Judaism had a fixed corpus for the Law and the Prophets but not for the Writings. “Writings” were still being composed, translated and circulated. The early Church had thus inherited a still open canon from Judaism. It disregarded any later decisions of Jewish rabbis as no longer authoritative or binding. The Holy Spirit had come upon the Church at Pentecost to guide it in such matters. The Church’s revealed teachings and tradition would be used to discern truth from error, inspired writings from uninspired.

Before going any further we need to examine another factor that influenced the formation of the Church canon. Ever since the Babylonian Exile large populations of Jews resided in regions outside the Holy Land – and non-Jewish cultural influences were found within it. One effect of this was that Hebrew became essentially a dead language read only by rabbis. By Christ’s day the vernacular language of Jews in Palestine was Aramaic while Jews in other parts of the Eastern Mediterranean used “koine” (common) Greek. If Jews were going to appreciate their Scriptures some form of translation would have to be made. In Palestine, targums, Aramaic paraphrased commentaries of sacred books, were used. Outside Palestine Diaspora, Jews relied on a Greek translation of Jewish Scripture. The Greek translation was called the Septuagint (Latin for “seventy” and hence often abbreviated as LXX). It was begun in Alexandria, Egypt in the 3rd century B.C. The Septuagint was quoted by Jewish historians, poets and philosophers and also used in synagogues – that is until the end of the first century A.D. when many Jews ceased to use the Septuagint probably because of Christian adoption of it.

The Septuagint contained a Greek translation of the books found in the later Jewish canon but also other books. Some of these other books were originally written in Hebrew while others were composed by Jews in Greek. The Septuagint typically had a different three-part structure. It arranged books by style: Narrative, poetical and prophetic. Further, since most post-exilic Jews wrote in Greek or Aramaic, it added historical books not found in any Hebrew versions. Because the Septuagint did not have a standard ordering or a completely standard list of books (the Jewish canon still being relatively open) the books included varied according to collection. The books found in it (depending on the collection) that varied from the later Jewish canon are: Tobit, Judith, the Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach, Baruch (including the Letter of Jeremiah), 1-3 Maccabees, the Prayer of Manasseh, Psalm 151, the Book of Jubilees, 1 Esdras, additions to Esther and Daniel, and less commonly 4 Maccabees. Since none of these books contained law or prophecy they all properly belonged to the Writings. A substantial number of them, but not all, were recognized by the Catholic Church as divinely inspired.

We know that from the beginning the Church made use of the Septuagint because it is extensively quoted from in the New Testament as well as in contemporaneous and later Christian writings. A conservative estimate puts over two-thirds of the Old Testament citations found in the New Testament as taken from the Septuagint. A higher estimate claims it to be about 300 of a total 350 quotes. The Septuagint influenced the New Testament profoundly. Terms used and even created in the Septuagint became part of the New Testament vocabulary. Probably the most famous and controversial reference to it is Matthew 1:23 citation of Isaiah 7:14: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive…” The Septuagint renders the passage from Isaiah exactly in this manner while the Hebrew version appears more ambiguous.

The Christian Church used the Septuagint for evangelization as well as making the first translations of the Old Testament into Latin from it. Early Christian authors referred not only to the books of the Jewish canon found in it but also to the books later rejected by the Jews. In the 16th century, Sixtus of Siena coined the term “protocanonical” to refer to the undisputed books of the Old Testament and “deuterocanonical” (second canon) to refer to the disputed texts. The term was not meant to suggest these books suffered from an inferior sort of inspiration but simply that controversy attended their acceptance by the Church. Protestants refer to them by the mildly pejorative term first used by Jerome of “Apocrypha” meaning “things that are hidden.”

Disputes in the Church over which books were inspired and thus canonical were not restricted to the Old Testament. Prior to the Church councils of the late 300s, there was a wide range of disagreement over some of the books of the New Testament. Certain books, such as the Gospels, Acts of the Apostles, and most of the epistles of Saint Paul had long been agreed upon. However a number of the books, most notably Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2 & 3 John, and Revelation remained disputed until the canon was finally settled. These are, in effect, New Testament “deuterocanonicals” books. Other books often cited by early Christian writers and sometimes even thought inspired included the Didache, 1 Clement, the Shepherd of Hermas, and the Letter to Barnabas. Their non-canonical status was eventually established but they were still recognized as morally edifying to read. They are thus more properly classified as early ecclesiastical writings.

As well as entire books of the New Testament being contested so were some individual passages. For example, in the Gospels Mark 16:9-20; Luke 22:43-44; John 5:4 and John 8:1-11 are not found in every ancient manuscript. Yet how many Christians today worry about the inspiration of these verses which tell us about the woman caught in adultery, of Jesus’ sweat dripping like blood during the Agony in the Garden, of an angel that stirred the pool of Siloam, or describing Christ’s appearance to Mary Magdelene? Why would one accept such deuterocanonical New Testament books and passages while rejecting deuterocanonical Old Testament books and passages? If the Popes and the Church councils can be wrong on the Old Testament, logic dictates they can be wrong on the New Testament. If the Church is not infallible in its universal decisions, including its decisions about the canon of Scripture, then how can anyone be certain that they have a true canon of Scripture?

In the 18th century, the scholar, Johann Salomo Semler, tried to explain why a large part of the Christian world used a longer canon than the Jews or the Protestants of his day by postulating that at the time of Jesus the Jews actually had two closed canons of Scripture: the shorter Palestinian canon and the longer Alexandrian canon. He conjectured that Gentile Christians, who predominated, took over the longer canon of the Hellenistic Jews. The double closed canon theory became popular later among Protestant apologists when the claims made for the Great Synagogue of the 5th century B.C. fell apart. It made the Palestinian canon sound more authentic and superior. The problem with the theory of a closed Alexandrian canon in Judaism, as American scholar Albert Sundberg demonstrated (The Old Testament of the Early Church, 1964), is that there is no evidence for it. It is a magnificent theory constructed without anyone noticing that it lacked historical foundations.

There is no doubt that the New Testament authors used the Septuagint but did they make reference to its deuterocanonical books? While there is no exact quote from the deuterocanonical books in the New Testament there are a number of probable allusions made. The enthusiastic German, E. R. Stier, in 1828 published a collection of 102 New Testament passages that he believed resembled the Apocrypha. A more conservative estimate would put the number at over two dozen (David Currie, Born Fundamentalist, Born Again Catholic, 1996). For example, the Gospel writers tell of a question put to Jesus by the Sadducees of a widow who had been married to seven brothers (Matt. 22:25; Mark 12:20; Luke 20:29). This may be an allusion to the book of Tobit (3:8 and 7:11). Jesus’ description of hell where “the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:48) is an image used in the book of Judith (16:17). In 1 Cor. 10:1 Paul’s statement of “our fathers being under the cloud passing through the sea” is described in the book of Wisdom (19:7). Some of the parallels are much clearer in Greek than in English, but even in English James 1:19, “Be quick to listen, slow to speak,” is very similar to Sirach 5:11, “Be swift in listening, but slow in answering.”

While allusions to a text or even quotes from it made by New Testament authors obviously carries some weight, it does not in and of itself prove a book inspired. For example, the New Testament never quotes from the Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Obadiah, Zephaniah, Judges, 1 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Lamentations or Nahum which are nonetheless accepted as Scripture. It does, however, allude to the Assumption of Moses and refers to the Book of Enoch (in the Letter of Jude 9 and 14) and to the writings of pagan poets like Epimenides, Aratus, and Menander (quoted by Paul in Acts, 1 Corinthians, and Titus), which are not accepted as Scripture or the authors as inspired.

The early acceptance by Christians of the deuterocanonicals as Scripture is clearly demonstrated by history. On the walls of the catacombs one can find scenes depicting the three young men in the fiery furnace, Daniel in the lion’s den, Tobit, Raphael and the fish, Judith with the head of Holofernes, Judas Maccabees, and the martyred mother and seven sons. All these images are based on persons or events recorded in the deuterocanonical books. No scene strictly found in a book the Catholic Church considers apocryphal is depicted in the catacombs.

The Protestant patristics scholar J. N. D. Kelly concedes: “It should be observed that the Old Testament thus admitted as authoritative in the Church was somewhat bulkier and more comprehensive [than the Protestant Bible]…It always included, though with varying degrees of recognition, the so-called apocrypha or deuterocanonical books.…In the first two centuries…the Church seems to have accepted all, or most of, these additional books as inspired and to have treated them without question as Scripture. Quotations from Wisdom, for example, occur in 1 Clement and Barnabas…Polycarp cites Tobit, and the Didache [cites] Ecclesiasticus. Irenaeus refers to Wisdom, the History of Susannah, Bel and the Dragon [i.e., the deuterocanonical portions of Daniel], and Baruch. The use made of the Apocrypha by Tertullian, Hippolytus, Cyprian and Clement of Alexandria is too frequent for detailed references to be necessary” (Early Christian Doctrines, 53-54). Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Hippolytus, Origen, and others at times explicitly refer to certain deuterocanonical books as “Scripture.”

With the exception of Melito of Sardis (A.D. 160), and to a lesser extent Origen, Christian writers of the first three centuries treated the deuterocanonical books as they did the protocanonical ones. (Origen accepted Esther and probably Baruch as Scripture but not the books of Maccabees.) It was not until the 4th century that some of the Fathers, most notably the great biblical scholar Jerome, began to have reservations concerning them. Jerome counseled that the deuterocanonical books not available in Hebrew or not considered canonical by the Jews could be permitted as models of faith and conduct but should not be used to establish doctrine. In other words he was recommending they be treated like other books found in some editions of the Septuagint that are not considered inspired but are treated as “ecclesiastical” books (e.g. 3 Maccabees and the Book of Jubilees). Such a change of view is difficult to explain. In the case of Jerome he may have been influenced by Jewish teachers who instructed him in Hebrew. In a reply to Rufinus, however, Jerome did defend the deuterocanonical portions of Daniel as Scripture even though the Jews of his day did not accept them as such. A near contemporary of Jerome, Athanasius, disputed the inspiration of the deuterocanonicals except the “epistle of Baruch” which he included as part of the Old Testament (Festal Letter 39). Cyril of Alexandria included Baruch and Esther but excluded the rest from his listing of Scripture (he also excluded from his New Testament listing Hebrews and Revelation). The patriarch of Constantinople, Gregory of Nazianzus, fails to mention any of the deuterocanonical books – as well as Hebrews and Revelation – in his listing of Scripture.

The recognition of the deuterocanonicals as part of inspired Scripture given by individual Fathers was more formally and authoritatively given by the Church when it met in synods or councils. The results of such deliberations are especially useful because they do not represent the views of only one person, but what was accepted by the Church leaders of whole regions. The canon of Scripture, Old and New Testament, was given at the Synod of Rome in 382, under the authority of Pope Damasus I. It was reaffirmed at the Council of Hippo in 393 and at the First Council of Carthage in 397. In 405 Pope Innocent I reaffirmed the canon in a letter dispatched to Exuperius, bishop of Toulouse. Another council at Carthage in 419 reaffirmed the canon of its predecessors and asked Pope Boniface to “confirm this canon, for these are the things which we have received from our fathers to be read in church.” All of these canons were identical to the modern Catholic Bible, and all of them included the deuterocanonical books.

However, these early regional councils and papal letter are not universally binding and definitive. This might explain why Eastern Orthodox churches often have more books in their Scriptures than just the deuterocanonicals affirmed by the Catholic Church. They do accept as divinely inspired all the books recognized by the Catholic Church. For example, at the Synod of Jerusalem in 1672 the Orthodox churches’ expressed their reaction to the Protestant canon by affirming Tobit, Judith, Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), Wisdom, the additions to Daniel, and 1 and 2 Maccabees as canonical. But with no definitive listing of the Old Testament canon made before the Eastern Schism of 1054, Orthodox churches also include other books and texts found in various collections of the Septuagint. Another explanation may be the Orthodox churches’ tendency to react negatively to Catholic dogmatic pronouncements made after the Schism. They may be overemphasizing the status of books previously treated as ecclesiastical writings in response to the Council of Trent. The eastern Council of Trullo (A.D. 692), considered by Orthodox churches as an ecumenical extension of the Third Council of Constantinople, did adopt the Catholic canon of Carthage (A.D. 419).

In 1441 the Council of Florence promulgated the Catholic canon for the Jacobites as is found in the 4th and 5th century councils. But it was only at the Ecumentical Council of Trent, in 1546, that a universally binding and definitive listing of the canon of Scripture was given. This was long after the Eastern schism and in response to the Protestant rejection of the deuterocanonical books. In doing this, the Council did not at that point add the deuterocanonicals to Scripture but simply reaffirmed what had been believed since the time of Christ and stated by the earlier councils.

What led to the Protestant rejection of books held universally by Christians, East and West, as inspired for 1500 years? Interest in the Hebrew language and in things Jewish (like the Kabbalah) had been growing among Christians in Europe for more than two centuries before the Reformation. The Christian Humanists became interested in the Hebrew language and those who learned it naturally favoured the Hebrew books. Early in the 16th century the Dominican Johannes Reuchlin had published a Hebrew grammar in Latin and became the first modern Christian to translate part of the Bible directly from Hebrew. All this focused new attention on the shorter, Hebrew canon, and helped raise questions about the accuracy and value of the Latin Vulgate.

Then in June and July of 1519 Martin Luther engaged in a historic debate with Johannes Eck at Leipzig, Germany. The topic of the debate was Purgatory. Luther appealed to the Bible as the final authority. Eck quoted 2 Maccabees 12:45: “It is a holy and salutary thought [to pray for the dead]. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, so that they might be delivered from their sin.” Luther admitted the accuracy of Eck’s quotation but challenged the place of Maccabees in the canon. Eck conceded that Maccabees was not in the Hebrew canon, but appealed to the Church’s canon and to Augustine. Luther appealed to Jerome and the “Hebrew verity.” Luther thus denied the right of the Church to decide in matters of canonicity, instead it was to be determined by the internal worth of the book (Sundberg, The Old Testament of the Early Church). * Luther made the canon an acute issue for the Church and eventually all the Reformers insisted on the shorter Hebrew canon. For three centuries they still continued to print the deuterocanonical books in their Bibles (such as the King James Version) but in an appendix as “Apocrypha.” The deuterocanonicals were treated as worth reading for moral instruction but not as sources of Christian doctrine (i.e. “ecclesiastical” writings). Today some English Protestant Bibles still contain them as an appendix, but not all. In 1827 the British and Foreign Bible Society was the first to drop them completely from its published editions. Thus we have the situation as it stands today.

Fr. Ignatius
The Catholic Legate
September 27, 2005


* Luther at one time even began to question the apostolicity of the New Testament books Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation. Of the Letter of James, he stated that it was “flatly against Saint Paul and all the rest of Scripture” (Works of Martin Luther, C.M. Jacobs, trans., 1932). In his German New Testament of 1522 they come at the end and in his list of books they are separated by a space and given no numbers (like an appendix). But in time Luther modified his views and found more value in them, particularly Hebrews; and eventually he came to accept the New Testament canon of the Catholic Church.

For more information read the article on the canon of Scripture found at

Read Mark Shea, “5 Myths about 7 Books,” at

See also the table listing the Old Testament books recognized as canonical by the various Christian Churches at

Finally James Akin, “Deuterocanonical References in the New Testament” at

Fundamentalist, Schmundamentalist: Why James Patrick Holding Is A Victim of His Own Pseudo-Intellectualism (and Why His Catholic Chum Matt Paulson Has A Few Problems of His Own)

Last month, I responded to Mr. Holding’s blatantly silly and intellectually bankrupt criticism of my ‘Sola Scriptura Challenge” article, pointing out how Mr. Holding, for all his attempts at “scholarly sophistication” continues to be a victim of his self-contradictory mentality and the objectively discernable dead end that is sola Scriptura. In other words, Mr. Holding may simply not ignore the binding authority of the Sacred oral Traditions of the Catholic Church and continue to claim that Christianity is a historical faith in any meaningful sense. Now, while it is abundantly clear to me, as it is for many of our readers, that Mr. Holding is simply self-deluded and not willing to address the fundamental flaws in his mimicked “academic sophistication,” I will, however, (due to “popular demand” :-)) respond to his silliness in order to illustrate these reasonable flaws for those who can appreciate them. I will thereafter respond to his Catholic friend Mr. Paulson’s unfortunate attacks on my positions …and I say “unfortunate” because it is fairly clear to me that, aside from some minor errors on his part, Mr. Paulson and I really have no substantial disagreement. Rather, he merely misunderstands (and mischaracterizes) my arguments due to his introduction to them via Mr. Holding, of whom he is obviously very fond and trying to defend. Also, for anyone interested in a substantive exchange, I would highly recommend that you skip down past my replies to what I can only call Mr. Holding’s “ravings” and focus on my response to Mr. Paulson’s comments which, again, while unfortunately rooted in misunderstanding and presumption on the part of Mr. Paulson (and, to a lesser extent, my own), do address more interesting and “meaty” issues from which the reader may benefit.  Holding’s and Paulson’s later comments are in red.

For starters, Mr. Holding writes ….

And now, it seems that Bonocore was given notice of this item and has a rather petulantly indignant response to having his orange crates opened to the public and revealed as something other than apples. Bonocore begins with a Greek proverb, “Big book, big evil” — said to mean in practical sense, “too much intellectualism is a very misguided and dangerous thing.” All at once I had to check to be sure I was reading something by Bonocore as opposed to something authored by Peter Ruckman or Mormon apologist Edward Watson.

Well, it seems that Mr. Holding is very sensitive to any challenge to his “intellectualism.” Surprise, surprise. But, he goes on ….

Such hayseed fright-commentary I expect from one whose head is in the sand, and for whom scholarship is spelled F-E-A-R.

How appropriately liberal of you, Mr. Holding. 🙂 ….That is, to interpret an unqualified rejection of your nonsense as an expression of “fear.” The homosexuals do the same (sounding cries of “homophobia”) whenever someone points out that they are unfortunate deviants. But, hey … If assuming that I’m “afraid” makes you sleep better at night, then perhaps it’s good therapy for you. It does not fool the rest of rational society, however.

My Catholic consult apparently was more apt in judgment than I suspected when he labelled Bonocore a sort of fundamentalist.

Uh-huh. I’ll be addressing Mr. Paulson’s unfortunate in a moment (see below).

Bonocore wishes to stress that his article was “written for the benefit of Fundamentalist Protestant Christians” who, despite one such as myself, do take Sola Scriptura literally.

Correction, Mr. Holding. You also take sola Scriptura literally. You just don’t realize it, and you rationalize away the fact that you do. In this, you have the makings of a virtual “Anglican.” 😉

To put it rather succinctly, the people who care live here. Bonocore blatantly misrepresents my view as “pretend[ing] that ‘Sola Scriptura’ doesn’t really mean what its name clearly implies” (I thoroughly agree that it does mean what it implies, at least as abused today; whether it meant the same thing to the original authors of the doctrine is another matter, and from Bonocore’s own quote of Luther, it seems rather that Luther and I are on exactly the same page, while many modern Protestants are on another!)

Well, Dr. Luther said oh-so-many things that one’s bound to mimic him sooner or later. 🙂 However, the problem of course is that you, and Luther, and the Fundamentalist Protestant “Billy-Bobs” of the world all end up in the same place: A relativistic, totally-subjective, pick-and-choose style of Christianity —a self-selected body of doctrine that is distinct and alien from the historical progression of official Church teaching. Thus, spin it all you like, Mr. Holding, but you, Billy-Bob, and the erratic Dr. Luther are all victims of the same error, no matter how “nuanced” you wish to apply it.

or as “rationaliz[ing] away the unavoidable conclusions of any honest analysis of the ‘Sola Scriptura’ doctrine” (a rather asinine misrepresentation, since in the end, as a linked article above indicates, I don’t follow the doctrine as presently and too often formulated anyway). It seems clear that Bonocore was in a far too petulant mood to care whether he accurately represented my position; in this regard I find him far closer to certain Mormon apologists who immediately hoist “anti-Mormon” into the air and stuff it in the ears, lest they hear what you are actually saying.

Bla, bla, bla, bla, bla …. Go back and read what I actually wrote to you, Mr. Holding. I understand your true position very well. The problem is that you yourself do not understand it —that is, you do not follow it through to its logical, and unavoidable, conclusion –namely, a relativistic, totally-subjective “understanding” of the Christian faith. While you do not hold to the same “style” of sola Scriptura as the Fundies do (and this, I suppose, is to your credit), you arrive at EXACTLY the same result. But, the fact that you don’t see this does not speak very well of you or your intellectual commitment to historical Christianity.

If Bonocore had read my linked item with any care, he would know that I am in fact utterly indifferent to whether Sola Scriptura as a doctrine has any “objective basis”.

Ergo, your problem, Mr. Holding.

I don’t care if it does or not, because truth is truth whether found in a sewer or a flower shop; whether in Bonocore’s articles or Ben Witherington’s.

And how is a Christian to correctly (and infallibly) discern this truth, Mr. Holding??? This, again, is the problem at hand —the fundamental (no pun intended) flaw of Protestant Christianity, and the thing that the doctrine sola Scriptura (in however you apply it) has consistently failed to address and/or account for.

Nor, if he had read with any care, would he have missed that I have no truck for faith “based solely on one’s personal interpretation of the Scriptural text” (as if consultation of credentialed scholarship amounted to “personal interpretation”).

Ah, the old appeal to intellectualism! 🙂 “Academia will save us yet!” Think again, Mr. Holding. I can cite a whole bevy of “credentialed scholars” who will tell you that Jesus was/is not God and never claimed to be so. Ergo, so much for “credentialed scholarship.”

I am also, practically speaking, indifferent to how the Scriptures are “known to be authoritative and inspired” (if they are true, then “authoritative” is obvious as part of the package; and “inspired” is of only marginal relevance).

Oh, Mr. Holding, Mr. Holding … 🙂 If you are “indifferent” to how the Scriptures are known to be authoritative and inspired, then how do you know that they are “true”??? Clearly, the silliness of your position is obvious to everyone reading this …that is, perhaps with the exception of half-baked pseudo-intellectuals like yourself. Indeed, Muslims can and do say the same about their Koran. However, we Christians know that the Koran is full of nonsense. And why? Because it cannot stand up to what we know from reliable history and authoritative Apostolic tradition! You, however, apparently wish to ignore this dynamic (indeed, this grace of the Apostolic Faith), bury your head in the sand, and place Christian doctrine on the same level as Islamic theology. And, if that’s what floats your boat, fine. But, please don’t go around saying that you view Christianity as an objective and historical faith, because you clearly do not.

All of this, again, is clearly laid out in the linked article; Bonocore knows of none of this, and replies with such patent absurdities as these.

Oh, contraire, Mr. Holding. I responded to the fundamental flaws of your actual position. Go back and read what I wrote a little more closely.

In reply to my first paragraph, and the second as far as the word “process,” we have this skein of drivel: “Oh, on the contray, Mr. Holding. If you wish to subscribe to the dynamic of ‘Semitic totality’ (a very Catholic concept indeed), then you have no basis for rejecting the fact that the oral tradition of Faith was always, by Semites (like the Apostles), understood to be equally authoritative and binding with written material (i.e., inspired Scripture). This is why, needless to say, even modern Jews still accept the binding authority of both the Torah and the Mishna, which is the Mosaic oral Tradition that accompanies the Torah. Catholics live by both Scripture and Tradition just as our Jewish ancestors did –just as Jesus Himself and the Apostles did (e.g. 2 Thess 2:15, 1 Corinth 11:2, etc.). So, why have you Protestants departed from this natural condition of ‘Semitic totality’?” Not one word of this has anything to do with my point in the sections replied to. I said nothing at all about “rejecting” of oral tradition in the way described

Oh, please, Mr. Holding. 🙂 You again split hairs that cannot realistically be split. The point is that you do not hold oral Apostolic Tradition to be equal in authority with written Apostolic Tradition (a.k.a. the NT Scriptures). But, THAT is precisely what acceptance of “Semitic totality” requires. So, please don’t waste our time by trying to distinguish between “the way” you accept or reject oral Tradition. My point was that you do not hold to oral Tradition in the way ancient Semites would do. And that point stands quite firmly.

(indeed, if Mr. Bonocore were less interested in soothing his petulant soul, and more interested in understanding what I believe, he might have inquired, or else found my item on oral tradition which agrees and provides a robust defense of that notion that orality is perfectly capable of transmitting truth accurately, and was especially so among Semites).

🙂 Not good enough, Mr. Holding. For, oral Tradition is not merely “capable” and “accurate,” it is also fully authoritative in ancient Semitic practice. This is what you fail to appreciate.

What is true, whether in speech or in writing, is equally authoritative by virtue of being true.

I most certainly agree with that, Mr. Holding. But, HOW is one to discern what is true? How is one to know whether a given writing or oral tradition is authoritative? This is what you fail to address and appreciate. But, then again, as you’ve already told us, you are “indifferent” to such things. Ergo, one can only conclude that “truth” is a purely subjective phenomenon for you.

I have not in the least rejected oral tradition as a potential source for authoritative teachings — indeed, the linked item above, which Bonocore apparently missed for whatever reason, places no limits of any sort of the receipt of background information.

You speak of “potential,” Mr. Holding. But, “potential” is not true and objective authority. You, therefore, have clearly not thought this through very thoroughly and are contradicting yourself.

Perhaps Bonocore will one day address my actual points as opposed to erecting flaming strawmen in the Hallow’s Eve pumpkin patch;

And perhaps Mr. Holding will care to uncover his eyes and look his own ugly “jack-o-lantern” in the face. 🙂 In other words, Mr. Holding needs to come to terms with the fact that I am addressing flaws in his reasoning which he himself has failed to discern.

but for the nonce, we have more of the same. I briefly corrected Bonocore for neglecting to mention Papias, in fact, as the first witness to Matthew’s authorship (not Ireneaus); rather than acknowledge this error of his, Bonocore flies off the metaphorical handle with an irrelevant lesson on who Papias was, what exactly he said, and some idiotic idea that I “pit them against each other”!

If Mr. Holding did not intend to pit Papias against the witness of Ireneaus, then why cite him at all in the process of refuting my article’s points viz. Ireneaus? You make no sense, Mr. Holding. In your criticism of my article, you accused me of failing to cite Papias. Why? Clearly, as any reader of your article can plainly see, your intention was to undermine Ireneaus as a primary witness to Matthew’s Gospel. Yet, as I illustrated in my response to you, a) Papias does not mention a Gospel of Matthew as we have it today, but merely refers to the Apostle setting down “the oracles of the Lord.” What this refers to is obscure and requires the witness of Ireneaus in order to verify that it is the present Matthew’s Gospel that is being referred to; and b) Papias and Ireneaus were both speaking out of the common Asian Apostolic tradition; and so one is not ‘forgetting’ or ‘excluding’ Papias (as you accused me of doing) by citing Ireneaus as a primary witness to the origin of Matthew’s Gospel. My, my … For someone who claims to be “indifferent” about the origins of inspired Scripture, you are certainly easily upset.:-)

Once again, simple inquiry or a very small amount of investigation would have revealed to Bonocore my quite robust defense of the worth of Papias’ testimony (from even a strictly secularist perspective, sound and early support for the authorship of Mark and Matthew both, far better than we have for any comparable ancient document).

As I presented before, it is untrue that we have better documentation for the New Testament Scriptures than for other ancient documents (e.g. the Platonic Dialogues, the Gallic Wars, etc.). As for the witness of Papias itself, … It is more than merely “worthy.” Rather, it is part of the authoritative witness of the early Church. Papias is not speaking on his own, but, in the case of Matthew’s Gospel, is recounting what the Church itself universally and formally believed. Mr. Holding, however, who seems incapable of approaching Christianity as anything other than an academic exercise (very Protestant, that), fails to appreciate this.

Mr. Holding then goes on to say (prepare yourself for a ridiculously long quote, folks:-)), …

Indeed Bonocore now wanders lost in the woods, having ingested the hallucinogen of pride which enables such absurd statements as these, to my point that the Gospels are “far and away in better shape in terms of external attestation than any other document from the ancient world”: “Really? Well, that should come as a surprise to many classicists out there who take great pleasure in works like Plutarch’s “Lives,” or Caesar’s “The Gallic Wars,” or the “Dialogues” of Plato, or a great many other ancient works, of unquestionable integrity, which date from before the Gospels were writen.” It is very nice that classicists “take great pleasure” in these works, but I wonder how this manages to show us that Plutarch or Caesar or Plato here have better internal and external attestation than the Gospels. Let me link here so that Mr. Bonocore can have some real idea what I am talking about. Better yet, let me reprint the most salient portion so that Mr. Bonocore does not strain himself overmuch with the difficult chore of ascertaining what I am actually saying: “The “anonymity” of the Gospels authors is something that many skeptics hang their hat upon. Yet I have noted that in making this argument, critics never explain to us how their arguments would work if applied equally to secular ancient documents whose authenticity and authorship is never (or is no longer) questioned, but are every bit as “anonymous” in the same sense that the Gospels are. If it is objected that the Gospel authors nowhere name themselves in their texts — and this is a very common point to be made, even among traditionalists — then this applies equally to numerous other ancient documents, such as Tacitus’ Annals. Authorial attributions are found not in the text proper, but in titles, just like the Gospels. Critics may claim that these were added later to the Gospels, but they need to provide textual evidence of this (i.e., an obvious copy of Matthew with no title attribution to Matthew, and dated earlier or early enough to suggest that it was not simply a late, accidental ommission), and at any rate, why is it not supposed that the titles were added later to the secular works as well? In order for readers to appreciate the magnitude of this situation, I would like to present here a listing of external evidences for the authorship of the works of Tacitus. I wish to thank Roger Pearse for helpfully sending me copies of relevant pages from the works of the Tacitean scholar Mendell, from Tacitus: The Man and His Work. Mendell surveys evidence for knowledge of Tacitus throughout history; we will only look at evidence up to the sixth century (for reasons noted in Mendell below). In doing this we would challenge potential respondents to compare this record to that of the Gospels. We will present Mendell’s comments and intersperse our own. THE Annals were probably “published” in 116, the last of the works of Tacitus to appear. Only Pliny of Tacitus’ contemporaries mentions him, and his writings and the evidence of subsequent use up to the time of Boccaccio is slight. It is not true, however, that Tacitus and his writings were practically unknown. They were neglected—-possibly, in part at least, because of his strong republican bias on the one hand and because, on the other, the church fathers felt him to be unfair to Christianity. Vopiscus in his life of the emperor Tacitus (chapter 10) indicates the state of affairs in the third century: “Cornelium Tacitum, scriptorem historiae Augustae, quod parentem suum eundem diceret, in omnibus bibliothecis conlocari iussit neve lectorum incuria deperiret, librum per an-nos singulos decies scribi publicitus evicos archiis iussit et in bibliothecis poni” (the text is obviously corrupt in the reading evicos archiis). Nevertheless, Tacitus is mentioned or quoted in each century down to and including the sixth. In fact, the seventh and eighth are the only centuries that have as yet furnished no evidence of knowing him. The following are the known references to Tacitus or use of Tacitean material after the day of Tacitus and Pliny until the time of Boccaccio. The material was well collected in 1888 and published at Wetzler by Emmerich Cornelius, but a considerable amount of new material has turned up from time to time since. About the middle of the second century Ptolemy published his Gewgrafikh& ‘Ufh&ghsij. In 2. 11. 12 (ed. C. Muller, Paris, 1883) he lists in succession along the northern shore of Germany the towns of Flhou&m, and Siatouta&nda. The latter name occurs nowhere else and has a dubious sound. The explanation is to be found in Tacitus, Ann. 4. 72, 73: “Rapti qui tributo aderant milites et patibulo adfixi; Olennius infensos fuga prae-venit, receptus castello, cui nomen Flevum; et haud spernenda illic civium sociorumque manus litora Oceani praesidebat.” The governor of lower Germany takes prompt action, the account of which winds up: “utrumque exercitum Rheno devectum Frisiis intulit, soluto iam castelli obsidio et ad sua tutanda degressis rebellibus.” The source of Ptolemy’s mistake is obvious.Note here that Ptolemy’s obvious use of Tacitus is taken as a signal of the Annals existing. This is in stark contrast to how quotes in patristic writers from the Gospels are excused asway as “floating, independent tradition” rather than evidence of the Gospels. Note as well that Ptolemy does not name Tacitus. We still do not have an attribution of authorship to work with some 40-50 years after the writing. It is hard to believe that Cassius Dio (who published shortly after A.D. 200) did not know at least the Agricola. In 38. 50 and 66. 20 he mentions Gnaeus Julius Agricola as having proved Britain to be an island and in the later instance tells the story of the fugitive Usipi. If we make allowance for the method of Tacitus, which leaves his account far from clear, and for the use of a different language by Dio, there can be little if any doubt that Tacitus is the source for Dio. We know also of no other possible source today. The last part of the section, dealing with Agricola’s return and death, confirms the conclusion that Dio drew from Tacitus, and it sounds as though Tacitus had left the impression he desired. Notice we still do not have an attribution, and we are now 80 and more years past the publication of these works by Tacitus. We are already at or past the number of years Papias was from the Gospels.In the third century Tertullian cites Tacitus with a hostile tone. He had spoken without respect of the Jews and had implied that the Christians were an undesirable sect of the Jews. It is not a surprise, therefore, to have Tertullian (early third century) refer to him as ille mendaciorum loquacissimus. The Apologist is defending the Christians against the charge that they worshiped an ass. The origin of this scandal he ascribes to Tacitus, Hist. 5. 3, 9. Apologeticus 16…This is the first direct attribution of something to Tacitus — apparently over 100 years later! Tertullian also cited Tacitus in two other places.Lactantius, in the time of Diocletian, is at least once (Div. inst. 1. 18. 8) somewhat reminiscent of Tacitean style but that is as far as it is safe to go in claiming him as a reader of Tacitus, in spite of something of a resemblance between Lactantius 1. 11, 12 and Germ. 40. At about the same date, Eumenius of Autun, in his Panegyricus ad Constantinum 9, quite clearly has Agric. 12 before him. He follows Tacitus in the error of thinking that the nights are always short, and he assigns as reasons the same that the Roman had…Not only the actual quotation from Tacitus is of interest but the careful substitution of synonyms. Vopiscus, still in the fourth century, cites Tacitus with Livy, Sallust, and Trogus as the greatest of Roman historians…Ammianus Marcellinus, about 400, published his history, which began where Tacitus left off, indicating a knowledge at least of what Tacitus had written. At about the same time Sulpicius Severus of Aquitaine wrote his Chronicorum libri and, in 2. 28. 2 and 2. 29. 2, used Tacitus, Ann. 15. 37 and 44 as his source. On the detailed matter of Nero’s marriage with Pythagoras and the punishment of the Christians the verbal resemblances make it impossible to think that he was drawing on any other source….Jerome in his commentary on acchariah 14. 1, 2 (3, p. 914) cites Tacitus: “Cornelius quoque [i.e. as well as Josephus] Tacitus, qui post Augustum usque ad mortem Domitiani vitas Caesarum triginta voluminibus exaravit.” He gives no proof of having read Tacitus—-he may not even have seen his works at all—-but he did know of a tradition in which the thirty books were numbered consecutively. Claudian cannot be safely claimed as a reader of Tacitus in spite of his suggestive references to Tiberius and Nero. 8, Fourth Consulship of Honorius…Servius, on the other hand, at the end of the fourth century, while his reference is to a lost part of Tacitus, evidently had read the text. Hegesippus made a free Latin version of Josephus’ Jewish War with independent additions, many of which seem to come from Tacitus’ Histories. An example is 4. 8: “denique neque pisces neque adsuetas aquis et laetas mergendi usu aves.” Compare Hist. 5.6: “neque vento impellitur neque pisces aut suetas aquis volucres patitur.” There is a certain studied attempt at variation of wording without concealment of the source. Of the fifth-century writers, two, Sidonius Apollinaris and Orosius, have left evidence of considerable familiarity with Tacitus as well as respect for him as a writer. In Ep. 4. 22. 2 Sidonius makes a pun on the name Tacitus. After comparing himself and Leo to Pliny and Tacitus he says that should the latter return to life and see how eloquent Leo was in the field of narrative, he would become wholly Tacitus. The name as he gives it is Gaius Cornelius Tacitus. Again in Ep. 4. 14. 1 he quotes Gaius Tacitus as an ancestor of his friend Polemius. He was, says Sidonius, a consular in the time of the Ulpians: “Sub verbis cuiuspiam Germanici ducis in historia sua rettulit dicens : cum Vespasiano mihi vetus amicitia” etc…The citations in Orosius are naturally quite different from these casual references and general estimates. Orosius is always after material for argument, and it is the content rather than the style that interests him. He refers to Tacitus explicitly and at length. He compares critically the statements of Cornelius Tacitus and Pompeius Trogus and again of Tacitus, Suetonius, and Josephus. The quotations and citations from Tacitus are all in the Adversus paganos and all from the Histories. In 1. 5. 1 Orosius says: “Ante annos urbis conditae MCLX confinem Arabiae regionem quae tune Pentapolis vocabatur arsisse penitus igne caeleste inter alios etiam Cornelius Tacitus refert, qui sic ait: Haud procul inde campi . . . vim frugiferam perdidisse. Et cum hoc loco nihil de incensis propter peccata hominum civitatibus quasi ignarus expresserit, paulo post velut oblitus consilii subicit et dicit: Ego sicut inclitas . . . cor-rumpi reor.” The quotation is from Hist. 5.7 and, in spite of some interesting variants, it is reasonably exact. The same is true of his quotation of Hist. 5. 3 in Adv. pag. 1. 10. 1… Cassiodorus is a sixth-century writer who seems to have used Tacitus as source material. He does not, however, seem to know much about his source, for he speaks of “a certain Cornelius”; but he draws on Germania 45…Perhaps a hundred years or less after Cassiodorus, Jordanes wrote his De origine actibusque getarum which he took largely from Cassiodorus’ history of the Goths. That one or the other of these two must have known Agric. 10 is shown by the following passage in Jordanes (2. 12, 13): “Mari tardo circumfluam quod nec remis facile impellentibus cedat, nec ventorum flatibus intumescat, credo quia remotae longius terrae causas motibus negant. Quippe illic latius quam usquam aequor extenditur . . . Noctem quoque clariorem in extrema eius parte menima quam Cornelius etiam annalium scriptor enarrat. . . Labi vero per earn multa quam maxima relabique flumina gemmas margaritasque volventia.” The textual confusion memma quam is usually taken to come from minimamque but we should expect brevemque. The very last item is probably from Mela. The Scholiast to Juvenal 2. 99 and 14. 102 refers to the Histories, ascribing them in the one case to Cornelius, in the other to Cornelius Tacitus. The first note is as follows: “Hunc incomparabilis vitae bello civili Vitellius vicit apud Bebriacum campum. Horum bellum scripsit Cornelius, scripsit et Pompeius Planta, qui sit Bebriacum vicum a Cremona vicesimo lapide.” The second is a twofold description of Moses: (a) “sacerdos vel rex eius gentis”; (b) “aut ipsius quidem religionis inventor, cuius Cornelius etiam Tacitus meminit” (cf. Hist. 5. 3). Comparably speaking, this evidence is vanishingly small compared to the incredible number of attestations and attributions by patristic writers, some few earlier than (but many as late as) those listed for Tacitus above. How can someone dealing with the evidence fairly claim to be sure of Tacitus’ authorship of his various works (where such external evidence is concerned) and dismiss the Gospels, which have far better external evidence? I have recently checked a book titled Texts and Tranmission (Clarendon Press, 1993) which records similar data for other ancient works. Throughout the book classic works from around the time of the NT whose authorship and date no one questions (though some have textual issues, just like the NT) are recorded as having the earliest copy between 5th and 9th century, earliest attributions at the same period (for example, Celsus’ De medicina is attested no earlier than 990 AD, and then not again until 1300!), and having so little textual support that if they were treated as the NT is, all of antiquity would be reduced to a blank wall of paranoid unknowingness. If the Gospels are treated consistenly, there will be no question at all about their provenance, but that is clearly the last thing critics want to do.” If Mr. Bonocore has any beef with what I have said above, what we should like is some equitable set of data for Plutarch’s “Lives,” or Caesar’s “The Gallic Wars,” or the “Dialogues” of Plato, whose integrity I do not in the least question (the point rather is that the Gospels, by this standard, have equitable or greater integrity and do not deserve to be questioned by critics on the points of attestation), and whose own dates of composition are interesting but irrelevant.

Sigh! 🙂 Again, Mr. Holding, after quoting himself (and all of us) into an oblivion of boredom above, proves only that the Gospels are better attested to than Tacitus’ Annals. But, so what? That is only one (relatively minor) work of ancient Latin literature. There a countless others (Plato’s Dialogues among them) that are far more well-attested and, I’m sorry, better attested to than the Gospels. If Mr. Holding wishes to see evidence for this, I suggest that he take the time and explore the reality himself. For, the burden of proof is on him, not on me. It was not I who made the claim that the Gospels are “far and away in better shape in terms of external attestation than any other document from the ancient world.” As I said, this is objectively untrue.

That classicists take “great pleasure” in these works (Bonocore makes it sound like they rub them on their scalps, or use them for autoerotic fantasies, or some other such nonsense) is beside the point and a non-answer.

🙂 Evidently, sloppy prose is an unforgivable sin for Mr. Holding. By “take great pleasure,” I was simply referring to the fact that classicists are well-versed in the origins of these ancient works of literature. I apologize if my expression was less than clear. However, the point still stands and it is far from a “non-answer.”

If what I say above is “ridiculous and indefensible” or “abundantly incorrect” then one wonders where the actual “correction,” in the form of actual attestation data about Plutarch, et al. is from Bonocore’s pen.

My “pen”? I am using a “keyboard,” Mr. Holding. And I “take great pleasure” in it. 🙂 So, if we are to be precise, let’s be precise across the board.

As for your criticism above, … Again, the burden of proof is on you, not me. You’re the one claiming that the Gospels have superior external attestation “than any other document from the ancient world.” Clearly, this is not the case, since numerous other classical documents (many far older than the 1st Century) come down to us with continuous and solid credentials. But, if you disagree and are willing to stand by your initial statement, one would think that you yourself would be ready to present a comprehensive comparison (a nice chart, perhaps?) illustrating how the Gospels surpass “any other” ancient document, as opposed to the Annals of Tacitus alone.:-) If you cannot readily do this, then you already admit that your assertion is a rash and unsubstantiated one.

It seems to be conspicuously missing, perhaps lost in the psychadelic haze of Mr. Bonocore’s own indignity at having been corrected so needfully for neglect of such simple facts as that Papias, not Irey, is the first witness to Matthew’s Gospel.

As I showed you, Mr. Holding, your “correction” is an unsound one. Papias does not mention Matthew writing the Gospel that we have today. Rather, he merely mentions Matthew writing down the “oracles of the Lord” and then mentions how “others” “translated them as best they could.” There is also no reference to a narrative or to an account of the Passion and Resurrection, etc. Therefore, once again, my initial point stands. Ireneaus is the first person we have on record referring to Matthew writing the Gospel that we know today. While Papais may be referring to the same thing (and I believe that he is), it is not a foregone conclusion (unless, of course, one recognizes that he and Ireneaus are referring to the same Tradition). 🙂

Rather, Bonocore dons the hat of fundamentalist atheists this time, babbling after their kind, whose paranoia exceeds their better judgment,

So, now I am like an “atheist” too. 🙂 Really, Mr. Holding … You need to get another hobby. Your webbloging has imbalanced you.

that just because we have these attestations, doesn’t mean they were right or true — so much for the normal means of attesting authorship for ancient documents: perhaps as Acharya S supposes, they were all patent liars and they were written on Mars. It seems that Mr. Bonocore needs a touch of exposure to the likes of Mrs. S, for if he had any, that the view was much like a mirror reflection might shock him into some sense of sensibility, and the realization that arguments like these rooted in epistemic paranoia are a case of cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s proverbial face.

I repeat: Bla, bla, bla, bla, bla … 🙂 Here, again, Mr. Holding reveals how he is a victim of a purely academic mentality and cannot regard Christian Tradition as anything greater than an academic pursuit. It is therefore no wonder that he fails to appreciate the dynamic of God-given, Spirit-guided Church authority.

Bonocore speaks rather vaguely of “those who witnessed the publicaltion [sic] of something like Caesar’s ‘Gallic Wars,’ ” being superior to Papias’ witness 50 to 60 years later, though we are not given the names of these “witnesses” who saw the “publication” of the Wars, much less is any actual comparison made (as was above for Tacitus’ Annals, which is certainly NOT “superior” with respect to the witness of Papias).

As any undergraduate classics student can tell you, Caesar’s Gallic Wars was published within his own lifetime and was widely read and quoted from throughout the Latin-speaking world. There is no doubt that Gaius Julius Caesar (conqueror of Gaul) was the author of this book, nor is there any room for disputing it. That makes its attestation superior to that of the Gospel of Matthew –the Greek text known to Ireneaus and to us today. Rather, the one and only reason that we accept St. Matthew to be the author of this book is because a) that was the unquestioned, universal Tradition of the ancient Church and b) both Protestants and Catholic Christians accept the binding authority of this Tradition.

Perhaps one day we shall have some.

Perhaps Mr. Holding should look it up for himself. 🙂

In the meantime, Bonocore barbles the questions of Papias, “[H]ow do we know his information is reliable? Why should we trust his story at all?” He follows further with rather outdated questions about how we know he refers to “the Gospel of Matthew as we have it today” (my linked article above explains how we know what he is talking about — and how indeed it relates to Matthew as we have it today) but his answer to these and other burning questions is, “We know because the church says so in its tradition” — oblivious to the point that it is just as easy to ask, “How do we know the church is right or truthful on this?” — and thus revealing Bonocore as indeed the fundamentalist my Catholic consult pegged him to be.

Am I indeed? 🙂 Well, it is certainly not surprising that a misguided pseudo-intellectual Protestant like Mr. Holding would see an objective standard of truth (such as the infallible authority of the Catholic Church) as a mark of “fundamentalism.” …Because, for the pseudo-intellectual, there of course can never be a simple or definitive answer —a final authority which cannot be disputed. Indeed, for Mr. Holding, even Scripture and oral Tradition fall into this category …unless, of course, Mr. Holding himself (subjectively) concludes that something therein is “true.” 🙂 And so, we come back again to Mr. Holding’s preoccupation with academia and his very unwise presumption that Christian truth can only be arrived at through that means (with Christ-given teaching authority being a mere phantasm at best). Very sad.

With this sort of reasoning we may as well abandon hope and adhere to our Mormon internal witness which gives us the same epistemic problems, but at least is closer to home.

Only one difference, Mr. Holding. 🙂 Unlike with the Mormons, the “internal witness” of Catholic Christianity is over two-thousand years old, consistent, and comes directly from the Lord Jesus Christ. Oh! It is also the source and origin of your own Christian heritage –the Church your Protestant ancestors came from (read: rebelled against). So, comparing our infallible authority to the likes of the Mormons is a non sequitur and a straw man in its own right. What’s more, if you care to consult your Bible, you will see that the 1st Century Church also conducted itself according to an “internal witness” –-indeed, the SAME “internal witness” that this SAME Church of Jesus Christ lives by today. For, as 1 Tim 3:15 says, WE are “the pillar and foundation of Truth.” Sorry if that causes some envy, my friend. But, no one asked your Protestant ancestors to discard their Catholic, Apostolic heritage –a heritage you are certainly free to return to and reclaim at any time.

Bonocore goes on to “defy” me to “produce one ancient witness to the reliability of Matthew’s Gospel who does not also subscribe to a belief in the binding authority of Apostolic oral Traditon and/or who does not hold to the present oral Traditions of the Catholic Church.” My answer is the same as before; this is apples to oranges; this as a matter of a historical issue versus a spiritual one, untestable and inscrutable.

Oh, PLEASE, Mr. Holding, that’s nonsense and an evasion, and you know it. All of the Church fathers, Papias included, subscribed to the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox belief that the Church, possessing the ever-present Holy Spirit, Who it received on the day of Pentecost, is able to speak infallibly from its body of Apostolic oral Tradition. It was only your novel Protestant (read: 16th Century, Northern European) theological rebellion that changed this view. And this, as I said before, results in the very-academic (extra-ecclesial / extra-authoritative) doctrine of sola Scriptura …as BOTH you and the Fundies employ it (particular nuances aside). For, Papias himself refers to Church authority when he says:

“If, then, any one who had attended on the elders came, I asked minutely after their sayings –what Andrew or Peter said, or what was said by Philip, or by Thomas, or by James, or by John, or by Matthew, or by any other of the Lord’s disciples: which things Aristion and the presbyter John, the disciples of the Lord, say. For I imagined that what was to be got from books was not so profitable to me as what came from the living and abiding voice.”

He refers here to Apostolic / Ecclesial authority —that of the Apostles / presbyters and of those who succeeded to them (those who “attended” them).

A Mormon may as well “defy” us to explain why, if Joseph Smith correctly forecast the Civil War (though I don’t think he did), he is not to be believed when he says that God has a body.

🙂 Another non sequitur. Papias believed in binding Apostolic oral Tradition and the infallible authority of the Church. Neither Luther nor yourself believe in these things. Now, name a Church father or another ancient orthodox Christian who shares your (and Luther’s) position, and I will concede my point. If you cannot do this, however, you position is exposed as the nonsense that it is.

Bonocore’s clustering of data in this manner is an epistemic nightmare, one as bad as the work of any Protestant fundamentalist or KJV Onlyist who draws a circle around the Bible and refuses to admit Jewish Wisdom traditions.

🙂 Ha! Deal with your failure to follow AUTHENTIC “Semitic totality” and THEN you may speak of “Jewish wisdom traditions,” Mr. Holding. But, not before.

Bonocore’s circle is perhaps wider and around different subjects but it remains equally closed.

If so, then it is a “garden enclosed” (see: Songs of Solomon), Mr. Holding; for it is a realm of truth void of the open-ended errors that your irresponsibly preach.

And so it regresses, with Bonocore making the absurd statement that “nothing in the Gospel of Matthew itself tells us that it was authored by the Apostle Matthew” (apparently the superscription, and specific characteristics associated with a person like Matthew — which do just fine when attributing the Annals to Tacitus — aren’t to be trusted, and neither are the scholars who trust them) and the irrelevant statement that nothing in Matthew says it was “inspired by God.”

A reference to a character does not make this character the author, Mr. Holding. Even if we wish to ascribe some “author-relationship” to it (and that’s a real stretch), it could just as easily mean that the Gospel was written by some followers of Matthew (and so, it’s not a first-hand account), or by some people who never met Matthew but chose him as their “patron Apostle” (as the Ebionites and other Gnostics selected James or Thomas, etc.). Are you willing to apply Apostolic authorship to apocryphal Gospels which happen to focus on these apostles too? So, I repeat my not-so-absurd statement: There is nothing in the Gospel of Matthew itself that tells us it was authored by the Apostle Matthew. If a Christian believes that it was, he believes this based on the APOSTOLIC ORAL TRADITION OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH. End of argument there.

As for the Gospel not saying that it is inspired, why is that an “irrelevant” statement? The Book of Revelation (and several other works –both canonical and apocryphal) DO directly claim to be Divinely inspired within their own body of text. So, as with the authorship of Matthew, if a Christian believes that the Gospel of Matthew is inspired by God, he believes this based on the APOSTOLIC ORAL TRADITION OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH. This simply cannot be avoided.

I made clear why this is a matter of indifference; this, Mr. Bonocore, recovering apparently from a digestive disorder incurred by ingesting too many Chick tracts, calls “pseudo-intellecual poppycock” and claims that it reduces Christianity to “a purely subjective (and thus relativistic) exercise in personal discernment” (you heard it here: use of scholarship is “subjective” and involves “personal discernment”)

No, Mr. Holding. The ABUSE and OVER-EMPHASIS of scholarship is what leads to pure (and dysfunctional) subjectivity. What’s more, all scholarship relies on subjectivity until a matter is conclusively proven and agreed upon by all sensible persons. Yet, what do we have when it comes to Scriptural doctrine? We have over thirty-thousand SEPARATE Protestant sects —all with the SAME Bible, but all INTERPRETING it differently …and so, despite John 17:20-21 & 1 Corinth 1:10, etc., these sects are unable to be one Church as Jesus intended. This is all the result of a fundamental error promoted by the Protestant reformers, which was, namely, the replacement of Ecclesial / Liturgical Tradition with “academic analysis,” thereby making Divine revelation ONLY a matter of “study” (and therefore subjective perspective) as opposed to contemplative mystery carried down via the united organic Tradition (i.e., the living experience of the Apostolic Church as it is manifested universally throughout the world).

and then activates his Wonder Twin Powers to take the form of a Petulance Ice Sculpture, as he says, “those who hold the Koran to be the inspired Word of God can offer exactly the same argument.” No doubt they “can”. Whether they succeed is another matter; if Mr. Bonocore thinks there is “ahistorical nonsense presented in the Koran,” how does he know this?

Because 2,000 years of Catholic Tradition (and 3,000 years of pre-Christian Jewish Tradition) tell me it is so, Mr. Holding. This is what we call an objective standard (1 Tim 3:15). For us, it is the infallible teaching of the Spirit-guided Covenant People of God, a.k.a., the Catholic Church (the Israel of God). So, what is your objective standard for discerning truth? You continually fail to address this.

Did he put one on his head, with buckets labelled TRUE or FALSE on either side, and wait to see where it fell?

Mr. Holding, your essential problem is that, for you, “truth” is apparently some kind of ethereal (wholly intellectual) “goodie” that exists totally separate from “fact” or objective experience. This is unfortunate for one who professes to be a Christian. For, in Christianity, we hold that Truth is more than “right vs. wrong.” Rather, Truth is literally a Person —the Person of Jesus Christ, Who said: “I Am the Way, the TRUTH, and the Life.” This Truth abides in the Catholic Church through the Holy Sprit, the Spirit of TRUTH (John 14:16-17, 16:13), Who is promised to remain with the Church always, leading it to all Truth. Ergo, since the Koran does not come from this Spirit of Truth (but from another, deceptive spirit all-together), it does not contain the kind of Truth that we are discussing here. Rather, in denying the Deity of Christ and the reality of His New Covenant, it is opposed to Truth, and so rejects it. Therefore, I can say with utmost certainty that the Koran is filled with poppy-cock (except wherein it accidentally mimics Christian doctrines). I can also, from a purely secular and historical perspective, say that the Koran contradicts numerous historical facts which are well-established and attested to for thousands of years prior to its composition (e.g. the fact that it was Isaac, and not Ishmael, who was Abraham’s legal son and heir, and so the intended sacrifice atop Mt. Moriah. The Muslims, of course, ridiculously try to argue that the Jews and Christians, sometime in antiquity, ‘secretly changed’ the original text of Genesis to make Isaac the chosen one over Ishmael ;-). It is also quite amusing here how Mr. Holding mocks the “internal witness” of Mormonism (and rightly so) but implicitly criticizes me for denouncing the equally-silly and ahistorical internal witness of Islam.

We hope rather that he did like our friends at Answering Islam do — that he researched the facts, consulted credentialed scholars, and arrived at a conclusion. If he did not do it this way, how did he do it? Were the liver auguries suspicious some morning?

And is Mr. Holding saying that a believing Christian must “consult scholars” before he can justly reject Islam? 🙂 My, how “open minded” of him. ..But how very unChristian. Bonocore whines that “[Holding] never tells us” what my “tests” are, what my “objective standard for determining the reliability and inspiration of the Gospel of Matthew is.” Here Mr. Bonocore can be partially forgiven for not knowing (though he should have inquired prior to inserting his foot in his mouth) of our articles such as this one;

Obviously, the whole world should take the time to read absolutely everything that Mr. Holding writes on his little website before judging one jot of his “brilliance” or daring to question any of his blatantly silly assertions on their own merit. And, yes, I am being sarcastic here. 🙂

though it certainly would not have been as rhetorically effective for him to realize that the tests we offered were tanned, rested, and ready, as it were.

Ha! 🙂 In your dreams, pal. …And I do mean literally in your dreams; for that’s the only place where your rationalizations make any sense.

His “objective standard” offered in place, however, is “the binding, Spirit-guided oral Tradition of the Catholic Church which, per Christ’s promise, in verses like John 14:16-17, 16:13, and Matt 16:18-19, cannot err in such dogmatic matters.” He is right to suppose I do not agree that any such guarantee is found in these passages;

Well, that’s merely because you happen to be a misguided heretic, my dear. One obviously can’t fault you for that, however. “From those who are given much, …” 🙂

on the other hand, one may ask how he avoids the circular exercise and the important question, “How do we know Christ was right or telling the truth?”

Because Jesus promised that His Church always would. Now go look at history and see who gets to claim that they are Jesus’ Church. We’re the only ones who can realistically do it, hands down.

Yes, we both acknowledge the authority of Christ; yet how can we be sure Christ has authority, aside from exercises in circular reasoning which may as well put us in the First Steel Belted Radial Church of Holiness Almighty?

This is a silly thing to say, Mr. Holding. And why? Because “The First Steel Belted Radial Church of Holiness Almighty” is not 2,000 years old or subscribing to a continuous and unbroken body of formal Apostolic Tradition. In fact, no Church (including the Eastern Orthodox Church …which comes real close) can match the Catholic Church in this regard. We be it.

This is why we have apologetics for the resurrection, and the deity of Christ.

Not for Catholics / Christians you don’t. If a believer in Christ does not accept the Resurrection, he does not belong to the Church –plain and simple. Again, you confuse Church authority with academic exercise (and secular academic exercise at that). Big mistake.

This is why the apostles appealed to evidence (Acts 2) to get people to believe.

🙂 Oh, come on, Mr. Holding! First of all, the Apostles do not appeal to any “evidence” Acts 2. Rather, what they employ (and it is principally Peter who does it) is exegesis from the Old Testament to show how Jesus’ Resurrection was the fulfillment of these prophecies –a very Jewish thing to do. But, belief in the Resurrection itself is a matter of Apostolic testimony and a personal decision to accept or reject this OBJECTIVE STANDARD of truth. In other words, one either believed in what the Apostles saw (i.e., Jesus alive again) or one did not. No “evidence” or “apologetic” is offered for this. Rather, all rests on the Apostles and their Christ-given authority to be His witnesses. And the same objective standard resides with the Catholic Church today, which continues to be the principal, on-going witness to and for Jesus Christ. And, if you disagree with that, try tracing the roots of your own Christian faith (the source of your Bible; the pre-16th Century heritage of the Christians around you) and see for yourself. You have no link to Christ (historical or otherwise) apart from the Catholic Church.

If we do not have this, we have nothing.

We have the word of the Apostles and so the word of the Church. This is far more than “nothing,” Mr. Holding. Rather, it is what Christ prescribed and intended. One either accepts the word of the Apostles (the word of the Church) or one does not. This is the OBJECTIVE STANDARD of Truth as Christ established it for us. You Protestants, however, ignore this to your own peril.

And thus my point: Bonocore’s oral tradition witness is no less subject to epistemic scrutiny than any other source, whether it makes him happy or not.

Oh, I’m very happy, Mr. Holding. And, please … “Scrutinize” our oral Traditions all you wish. But, you cannot challenge their soundness or the Catholic Church’s Christ-given place as the objective standard of Truth in this world.

I will not say, no, that “I could be wrong” about Matthew’s Gospel. I am saying that if you think I am wrong, you had best marshal your evidence and you had best do it right. If that is “subjective” or “relativist” then so apparently is all of scholarship in existence.

No, because some of scholarship leads to objectively discernable conclusions which all must accept, Mr. Holding. The earth DOES revolve around the sun; and we can show that it does. Likewise, Thomas Jefferson signed the Declaration of Independence, and we can show that he did. But, what we cannot show to everyone’s satisfaction is that a former Jewish tax collector named Levi bar-Alphaeus (a.k.a. the Apostle Matthew) authored the Gospel that we have today. Rather, in order to arrive that this conclusion, one must subscribe to and trust the oral Tradition of the Catholic Church; and one must do this in the very same way that a Christian subscribes to and trusts the Apostolic witness that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. In other words, one must accept this teaching of the Church as an objective standard of truth. If one does not accept this as an objective standard, then one best have another. So, again, what’s yours??? 🙂

And if that’s the path Mr. Bonocore wants us down, I say leave him to run alone with similar figures of epistemic greatness such as Alice and the White Rabbit.

Uh, …… You’re really need to get a grip, Mr. Holding. If anyone is lost in Wonderland here, I assure you, sir, it is not me. See any “smiling cats” or unusual “tea parties” lately?

I made the point that there is quite a difference in epistemic verification between, “Matthew authored Matthew” and “the real presence is in the Eucharist”.

Not according to Apostolic / Ecclesial authority there is not. The same Church authority which teaches that Matthew authored Matthew teaches that Christ is really and substantially Present in the Holy Eucharist. If one does not accept one, one should not accept the other, since both are part of the same, universal body of Apostolic Tradition.

Bewildered by the strictures of epistemic discernment and logic, Mr. Bonocore entitles this “twisted and incoherent” and “pseudo-intellectual babble”

Well, as much as Mr. Holding is a celebrated master of pseudo-intellectualism, and so should know pseudo-intellectualism when he sees it, I’m afraid I have to disagree with him here. I am far from “bewildered” insofar that all of Apostolic Tradition (the universal testimony of the fathers, etc.) agrees with me when it comes to both the authorship of Matthew and the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. My belief in both rests on this sound witness of Tradition. It is Mr. Holding, however, who, like the lustful souls in Dante’s Inferno, is blown by the winds hither and thither, guided only by his own subjective (and so unreliable) intellectual discernment or lack thereof.

and then wonders of the use of “internal evidence from the Gospel of Matthew to support the reliability and authenticity of the Gospel of Matthew,” as though internal evidence were indeed not of some use to scholars in determining the reliability of a document.

Again, Mr. Holding confuses academic “propositioning” with reliable authority. How sad. How very Protestant. Needless to say, there is no internal evidence (and indeed, no scholarly exercise) which can conclusively determine that Matthew is the author of Matthew. In fact, few scholars would even consider it as an option if it were not for the Church’s Apostolic Tradition on the matter. What’s more, and perhaps I should have mentioned this above … When considering the “internal evidence” —the idea that Levi / Matthew appears as a character in one of the Gospel passages, … Need I point out that this same character (the same conversion story) appears in the other two Synoptic Gospels! 🙂 Ergo, should we therefore conclude that Levi/Matthew is the author of the Gospels of Mark (per Mark 2:13) and Luke (per Luke 5:27ff) as well???

I wonder where Mr. Bonocore has been all these years that scholars have missed his expert judgment.

My expert judgment, Mr. Holding? Please don’t drag me into your Protestant “academic” cesspool. I speak as no personal or subjective authority here. Rather, I speak for the authority that is the Catholic Church and her 2000-year-old Sacred Traditions. And, as I mentioned above, your scholars do consult this authority when it suits them; otherwise, one would not even begin to look at Matthew as a possible author, let alone conclude that he personally penned the Gospel. This is the authority upon which I and all other orthodox Christians rely, Mr. Holding. It is a shame that you are so willing to follow the mere opinions of modern scholars over and above the voice of Christ’s ancient and Spirit-guided Church.

In the meantime we have no answer to the point that there is simply no comparison when it comes to someone who can judge, epistemically, who wrote Matthew, and whether there is indeed a Real Presence in the Eucharist.

Again, Mr. Holding: AUTHORITY. The issue of authority is key here. The same ancient Church that universally taught (by its oral Tradition) that Matthew wrote the Gospel also universally taught the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. This is a historical fact that cannot be denied. Ergo, it makes no sense to accept one formal and universally-binding Tradition yet reject the other. Either the ancient universal Church knew what it was talking about or it did not.

I have asked who said oral tradition was inerrant; Mr. Bonocore claims Paul does, though 2 Thess. 2:15 (“Stand firm and hold fast to the Traditions you were taught, whether by an ORAL STATEMENT or by a letter from us.” ) and parallel phrases only say, at best, that what Paul and his cohorts said is inerrant, not that everyone’s oral statements everyplace are.

🙂 Now, now, Mr. Holding … That is a very silly (very Protestant) argument, even coming from you. Whatever happened to your celebration of “Semitic totality”??? Clearly, Paul is speaking to his Thessalonian flock in the same manner (under the same Semitic dynamic) that Peter or any of the other Apostles would to their own established congregations. Clearly, all of the Apostles’ instructions were not committed to writing, and their oral teachings to the city-churches were held to be equally binding to anything that eventually found its way into the Bible. Papias certainly says as much. Yet, now you are willing to abandon him in order to “hold up the Protestant end.” How “untidy” of you.

And even then of course, none of this logically excludes Paul from epistemic scrutiny, and it is a sound reply that Paul’s trust was earned on the back of solid fact (which is what faith entails).

Gee, … Silly me. And here I thought that Paul was an inspired Apostle who spoke with Divine authority (esp. in his Epistles). So much for 1 Thess 2:13, I guess. There, of course, Paul clearly says …

“…in receiving the Word of God from hearing us you received not a human word, but, as it truly is, the Word of God, which is now at work in you who believe.”

Oh, by the way … In the very next verse, Paul says … “For you, brothers, have become imitators of the churches of God that are in Judea in Christ Jesus.”

…That is, churches founded by Peter and the other Apostles. And, this is the same Thessalonian church to which 2 Thess 2:15 is addressed. Ergo, 2 Thess 2:15 does not merely apply to following the dictates of Paul and his immediate associates. Rather, a common body of Tradition was entrusted to ALL the city-churches. Unlike the modern Protestant dynamic, all consisted of one universal Church sharing one body of doctrine: Ephesians 4:3-6.

I am presented then with the absurd challenge to show where a claim is made that “Apostolic Tradition is not inerrant” (perhaps it is not, but that does not guarantee inerrancy in transmission after the apostles);

If you believe in the promises of Jesus Christ (John 14:16-17, 16:13, Matt 16:18-19), it most certainly DOES guarantee inerrancy in transmission after the Apostles; for the Truth of the Apostolic deposit depends not on men, but on the Presence of the Spirit within the Church. However, Mr. Holding of course has no appreciation for this because, like a good lil’ Protestant (and like the Pharisees before them), he sees revealed doctrine as merely a matter of intellectual study –academia in place of organic Tradition and Divine Mystery: one of the chief errors of the Protestant revolt. What’s more, if my challenge is “absurd,” then it’s most interesting that you admit that there is no claim that Tradition is not inerrant. Here, again, we return to “Semitic totality.” 🙂 For, it would never even enter the Semitic mind that the organic Tradition of a people (the Church as the New Israel) would or could fail to be inerrant …especially when that people is guided by the promised Divine Presence of the Holy Spirit.

my request to know who “clustered our obligations so” is replied to with, “the Catholic Church” (which does not answer my question at all, since I still don’t have any reason to think “the Catholic Church” had any authority to do this either).

Mr. Holding? 🙂 Carefully open your Bible and read Matt 16:18-19. Then look at how the ancient Church regarded the dogmatic authority of Peter’s See –the Church of Rome. That will answer your question for you and tell you where the authority came from. Now, as a renegade Protestant heretic, you of course do not accept that. But, it does not change the fact that, for ancient orthodox Christians, this has been the objective standard since earliest times.

In the end, Bonocore cannot see how he could be “burned” as our own Catholic consult says, and even claims that our consult (guest writer Matt Paulson, by the way, who wrote here in the past as Phantaz Sunlyk) is not a Catholic at all, but a “liberal-modernist dissdent who wishes to imitate your own Protestant errors.” Well indeed might a KJV Onlyist fundamentalist say such of a credible scholar. (Matt adds his own comments below.)

Yes, and at least what Matt has to say is more substantive (albeit, in several respects, ignorant and misguided) than Mr. Holding’s self-obsessed ramblings. But, I will get to Matt’s “concerns” in a moment and illustrate to every sensible person’s satisfaction that there is nothing in my position that can “burn” a Catholic in any way, shape, or form. You guys simply do not realize who or what you are dealing with here. 🙂

Continuing down tobacco road, my statement of concern for what is true is dismissed as “irrational silliness” and it is supposed that I have “no way of knowing whether or not the Word is ‘true’ unless he begins with a pre-existing premise of inspired inerrancy, which in turn must be based on some external objective standard.”

Yep. 🙂 That is of course patently false:

Oh, please. 🙂

Our way of historical knowing is rooted in very solid epistemology, thank you very much, and while the paranoid or fundamentalist among us might press the panic button for effect

Here, again, Mr. Holding shows that he worships at the altar of the goddess “Academia.” Yet, no mention of authority; no mention of an objective standard. Only “epistemology” …As if that brings about unity or orthodoxy. …As if that’s what Christ instructed His Church to do. Try reading your Bible, Mr. Holding. Where exactly are individual Christians told to base their faith on epistemology??

(Bonocore sounds like atheists who ask how we can know Paul did not originally write letters denying the deity of Christ!),

Utter nonsense, Mr. Holding, and you know it. I am not asking anyone to prove a negative here. I am asking you to account for the planet-sized holes in your own position. Look beyond all your sophistry, and the simple fact remains that your faith is based on totally subjective intellectual pursuits; and so rests, not on any Christ-established Rock, but on your own limited intellect. You make no room for authority and no provision for obedience to authority despite what you would personally choose to do and believe —i.e., your own subjective judgment (contra Heb 13:17). And asking how you know if your subjective intellect is leading you in the right direction IS a very valid and honest question.

mature persons among the brethren do not. What of Bonocore’s “pre-existing premise” of the authority of the Church, or perhaps the authority of Christ? After labelling me now an “arch-heretic” in the making (a label I wear proudly, if it is sown on by the ignorant )

Oh, you’re already a material heretic, Mr. Holding. 🙂 So, “arch” cannot be much of a stretch, given your Protestant pedigree.

Bonocore reaffirms his headlong rush into his circular exercises in reasoning and authority in Catholicized fundamentalism.

🙂 I’m sorry, Mr. Holding, but the only one arguing in circles here is you. My citation of an objective standard for discerning truth (i.e., the Spirit-guided, infallible authority of the Catholic Church) breaks any “circle” in my argument; for all depends on that. But, again, what is your final authority? Where does ultimate truth reside for you; and how do you arrive at it??? Again, let me tell you what I’m hearing you say: I’m hearing that, for you, truth is arrived at via intellectual study. …That is to say, your own subjective certitude based on what your limited intellect is able to understand …or believe it understands. Ah! But, what about those people who might not agree with you? How do you know that you are necessarily right and that they are wrong? Do you claim personal infallibility? If not, then you admit that you may be wrong, or even in serious heresy. And so, what you’re really saying is that you have no ultimate, infallible way of knowing whether or not you are following sound doctrine. And, I believe that is called relativism, Mr. Holding. 🙂 Now, if one is a serious Christian, one simply cannot be happy with that. However, if one is a pseudo-intellectual who “gets off” by simply “discussing” Christianity and does not view it as an objective, and very pressing, reality, upon which one’s immortal soul depends, then hey … Why get bent out of shape by “mere ideas,” right? Let’s just sit around the “agora” and sip nectar with Socrates, and not worry about it. 🙂 This is where you seem to be to me, Mr. Holding. …And it is very sad; but all-too-typical these days.

Perhaps it will do him good to ask, if he thinks that there is something to those who “were witnesses to the Resurrection,” how he knows that these were not mental delusions by the Apostles; or how he does not know Jesus did not have an evil twin, or was a space alien. Absurd some of these are; yet they are real arguments from real Skeptics of various levels, and you can be sure (we hope!) Bonocore would reply with something that involves at least a semblance of reasoning prowess, even if he just says these theories are “silly”.

Mr. Holding, …. Please allow me to give you a bit of advice. You have spent far too much time debating with secular skeptics, and so have created a mental “template” geared to dealing with such as these –i.e., the realm of tiresome intellectual gymnastics. However, permit me to drag you back into the context of our initial conflict, if I may. 🙂 I wrote an article for BELIEVING CHRISTIANS. In that article, I pointed out that most believing Christians accept that Matthew wrote the Gospel of Matthew —something that comes to us, NOT from Scripture itself (or from any intellectual study), but from the Catholic Church’s authoritative deposit of Sacred oral Tradition. I then went on to cite other Traditions coming from this SAME deposit and so challenged these believing (Protestant) Christians to account for the contradiction in their belief systems, whereby they accept some of the Catholic Church’s Sacred oral Traditions but reject others. You, in turn, disputed the premise of me doing this. However, whether you are justified or not, there is nothing in the context of our dispute that would call any ancient beliefs into question. Rather, the issue here is one of consistency. For, both Protestants and Catholics believe that Matthew authored the Gospel. And, while you may spin it all you like, both happen to believe this because of an acceptance of ancient Apostolic Tradition. So, if the premise of Tradition is ALREADY accepted, then it is perfectly reasonably to ask why the other Traditions coming out of this SAME ancient deposit are not accepted by these modern Protestants. One need not go to the extreme of “evil twins” and “space aliens.” However, … To directly address your point, … My response to such secular skeptics would be that there is nothing in ancient Apostolic Tradition that talks about “evil twins” or “space aliens,” and my faith is in the teaching and witness of the Catholic Church. Also, if those who witnessed the Resurrection were insane or mentally deluded, then the doctrines of Christianity (which come to us from these same men) are the products of lunatics; and that places humanity in a sad state indeed, since almost everything that modern civilization thinks of as good or virtuous comes from the Christian Faith.

It is ridiculous to say that “one has no reason to accept the reliability or inerrancy of the NT Scriptures, or to accept Christianity at all” without the help of the Catholic Church saying one should.

Only someone who divorces himself from history (and objective reality) can say such a thing with a straight face. All that you know of Jesus Christ comes to you, either directly or indirectly, through the Catholic Church —from people who believed what I believe today.

How does one normally accept truth? One accepts truth by evidence.

No. One accepts truth in a number of ways, including through blind faith:

“Have you come to believe because you have seen me [Thomas]? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believed.” –John 20:31.

And why would they believe? Because of the word of the Apostles, and then because of the word of those who succeeded to the Apostles (per 2 Tim 2:2).

Belief also entails obedience. If one is a trusted authority, one will believe him out of obedience, even if what he says may be hard to accept. But, there is of course no such obligation in academic-based Protestantism. There, if one does not like what one’s pastor preaches (if it disagrees with one’s personal interpretation of Scripture), then hey … No problem. Just leave and join another church. …or, even better, start one of your own!:-) However, this isn’t what we see presented in the Bible: e.g. Heb 13:17 —a verse which few Protestants are able to obey, let alone inclined to follow.

Adding a layer of authority adds nothing to the truth but a broker of whatever value.

Sigh! Mr. Holding, your mind is a really amazing (and very sad and misguided) place. No one is saying that authority “adds” to truth. Rather, when authority comes from Christ, Who IS the Truth, it GUARANTEES truth and safeguards it. This is precisely what you lack and what you fail to appreciate. Jesus Christ did not establish a Church and then cast it to the winds of intellectualism, whereby truth can only be attained by personal study from generation to generation. Rather, He created a ministry of authority; and that authority (as it was for the Jews before us —Matt 23:1-3) remains with the Church to this day. You leave no room for this, however. And this is why I accuse you of distorting both Scripture and the principal of Semitic totality.

That Bonocore thinks this is “no better or more rooted in reality than the choice to believe in Islam, or Mormonism, or the like” only indicates how grossly unfamiliar he is with responses to Islam, Mormonism, “and the like”. Perhaps he can write to some Christian scholars and apologists and tell them how deluded they are.

Again, Mr. Holding appeals to intellectualism. Yet, there are Islamic and Mormon scholars and apologists in this world who feel that they have the upper hand on us Christians. So, how do we know for sure who is right? …Especially when Christians themselves disagree? If Christianity has no infallible authority, then we can never really know. But, the issue here, of course, is not whether or not there is infallible authority in Christianity. Almost all Christians believe we have that. The issue is WHAT IS this infallible authority. Fundamentalists (and most Protestants) say it is the Bible. But, of course, that is not a sound answer, since the Bible a) requires an interpreter; and b) is a canon of books based on the Sacred Tradition and Magisterial decisions of the Catholic Church. Mr. Holding, on the other hand, buries his head in the sand and presumes that he can discern all truth through intellectualism. 🙂 (Grow up, Mr. Holding). Then, we have the Apostolic Christians –the Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, who, following their ancient ancestors, both say that infallible authority resides with the Church itself. The only dispute here is how the Church manifests this infallible authority. The Eastern Orthodox say it’s only through an Ecumenical Council, whereas the Catholics have a far more organic and much older (pre-Constantinian) appreciation of how the Church operates infallibly –both through the extraordinary primacy of the See of Rome itself and through all the bishops of the Church (whether in Council or not) in union with the See of Rome …both of which pronounced dogmatic teachings long before Constantine ever embraced Christianity and launched the first ecumenical Council.

Bonocore still has not read my linked article, however, on Sola Scriptura; it would have told him clearly that indeed, I agree with him that Sola Scriptura as used today is abused; but he is in error to say that my “contextual elements” “(if they are authentic) reside in the history and oral traditons of ancient (Catholic) Christianity”. No doubt some or many do, but they do not all do; certainly the difference between the social worlds, with respect to honor and shame, and high and low context, has not been preserved.

And preserved where, Mr. Holding? Are you referring to medieval feudalism? If so, let me give you a little insight from history: No democracy ever lasts over 300 years. The old social world in which Catholicism once operated may return sooner than you think.

Mr. Bonocore follows then again the path of fundamentalist ostrich madness, asking “how do you know” scholars will lead you “to a reliable or comprehensive understanding of the Sacred text” (even as he hypocritically quotes a “Catholic scholar” who hypocritically disdains “academia”!).

We Catholics do not disdain academia, Mr. Holding. How can we when we invented it in its modern form (i.e., the universities of Paris, Bologna, etc.). What we disdain is the replacement of organic and liturgical Tradition (which is natural to Apostolic Christianity) with the principal of academia —as if study alone (apart from the comprehensive Apostolic Deposit) can arrive at Christian truth. From the days of Marcion and Arius, that’s how heresies are born.

No, this does not assume that “Christian Faith is a mere academic exercise” (though it does recommend “academic exercise” as a way for the Body of Christ to be healthy!);

Really? And which verse of Scripture tells us that the Body’s health depends on that? 🙂 What’s more, your approach DOES reduce Christianity to an academic exercise; and the fact that you cannot even see this speaks volumes about the sorry state of your apostolate, Mr. Holding.

nor does it deny “Liturgical mystery” or “Covenantal heritage” or any of these refuge buzzwords that Mr. Bonocore uses to cover his irrational and circular basis for trust.

If they are merely “buzz words” to you, then you obviously don’t appreciate them. …Nor, I would wager, do you even understand what I mean by them.

We agree that “one does not become an orthodox Christian without participating in the living Covenantal Tradition of the Church” but it stands nevertheless that one does not join that covenant without being given facts and evidence upon which to make a decision.

Really? And does your denomination Baptize retarded people, Mr. Holding? Can retarded people be saved? Can they join and become full members in the Covenant of Christ? Well, how is that possible if one cannot “join a Covenant without being given facts and evidence”?? Do retarded people require evidence? Do little children?

Apostolic preaching called upon FACTS of history and evidence

Dear God, you are a sad case, Mr. Holding. Your appreciation of Christianity is pathetically adolescent.

— Jesus’ resurrection; his fulfillment of OT prophecy; his miracles — and expected and demanded obedience in light of these facts. If I have “nerve” to speak of “Semitic Totality” it is nerve born of expertise that Mr. Bonocore has no reasonable hope of possessing or challenging in his current irrational state. If I have a “very unwise preoccupation with academia” then I will gladly have one; Bonocore may as well speak of a “very unwise preoccupation with evidence” by a trial lawyer.

Hey, I’m not the one with no objective standard for discerning truth, Mr. Holding. So, I fail to see how I can be called the “irrational” one here. Above you refer to all that is expected and demanded of the Christian. Okay. So, how you do you know that you have your “list” in proper order? How do you know you didn’t overlook anything, relying, as you do, on personal discernment alone? This is why an objective standard is required. This is why obedience to a Christ-established authority (Heb 13:17) is needed; but you do not recognize the existence of such a thing.

We are told, “Sacred Tradition is more than a mere ‘lexicon.’ Rather, it is, as Thomas Aquinas described it, a ‘sensus fidelium’ –a ‘sense of the faith.'” If this is true then perhaps it is Aquinas’ fault that we have been subjected to the irrational subjectivity that brings us postmodern church thought, charismatic inflictions such as the Holy Laughter movement, and made The Purpose-Driven Life our most prominent textbook.

Sorry, Mr. Holding, but the Magisterium of the Catholic Church has condemned and/or discouraged BOTH these things. …and for precisely the reason that Aquinas cited –because they contradict the authentic sensus fidelium of Apostolic Christianity. Here, again, we see the importance of a Christ-established authority. What’s more, if that’s the best shot you can give against the principal of sensus fidelium, you greatly disappoint me, Mr. Holding. 🙂

I suspect it is not his fault at all. But for Bonocore to claim that being Catholic means that one “possesses a comprehensive knowledge of the Apostolic Faith” as though automatically is to lead us down the same road to disaster that caused the stumbling of today’s worst apostates.

🙂 A faithless concern. What’s more, I never said that a Catholic’s sensus fidelium is an “automatic” thing. Rather, while it is a mystery with a spiritual dimension, it requires one’s presence and living participation IN the Church. And so, like any secular ethnic culture (e.g. the Jews), one intimately learns what it means to belong to a particular people and what the deeply held values and beliefs of that people are —something one can only acquire by living it (not from mere “book learn’n”:-) ). This is how Sacred Apostolic Tradition has been preserved in the Church (a living Covenant people) for two millennia. Yet, it is not surprising that a worshipper of academia would fail to appreciate or understand this.

(My consultant Matt Paulson adds: I noticed that in his response to you he translated the Latin “sensus fidelium” as “sense of the faith”. This is wrong–the genitive SINGULAR of “faith” is “fidei”; “fidelium” is the genitive PLURAL of the ADJECTIVE “faithful” (“fidelis”). So, “sensus fidelium” does NOT mean “sense of the faith”–it means “the sense of the faithFUL (ones)”; in other words, an understanding of the belief of Christians through the centuries. He is taking classical languages at university just now.)

🙂 Well, isn’t that nice that the Paulson family is sending their kid to school. And, though still in university, he is already employed as a “consultant” by Mr. Holding’s “sage” organization. I’m sure mom and dad are proud. Mr. Paulson is, of course, correct about the Latin declension, however. Sorry, I was not aware that a literal translation was required here. 🙂 As anyone without a bone to pick can readily see, I wrote “sense of the faith” to illustrate my intended point, not to be specific about the Latin. Clearly, if I wrote “sense of the faithful” it would not have expressed my meaning in the sentence, and then Mr. Holding would have been totally lost. 🙂

As for this: “At present, we have over 30,000 separate Protestant denominations —all with the same Bible, but all intepretating it differently. Clearly, someone is doing something wrong.” Somehow it is not surprising that Mr. Bonocore pulls this red herring from his Pond of Petulance, the same one that the Skeptic here fished out and threw back. Next we will be told that those 30,000 denominations have 30,000 entirely different points of view, and that there is no disagreement between individual Catholics on any single thing.

How many Christian faiths are there, Mr. Holding? Ephesians 4:3-6 says that there is only one. Also, when you get a chance, please check out Acts 4:23, 1 Corinth 1:10, Phil 1:27, Phil 2:2, and 1 Peter 3:8. In all of these verses (and several others), the Church is described as being of “one mind.” This is especially relevant in 1 Peter 3:8 where, as 1 Peter 1:1 shows, the Apostle is not addressing one city-church, but numerous city-churches in a total of five separate provinces of the Roman Empire. What being “of one mind” here refers to, Mr. Holding, is a unity of doctrine. However, there exists no such thing among the innumerable Protestant sects; which exist as separate sects PRECISELY BECAUSE they disagree on doctrine. And so, yes, the 30,000 separate denominations is a very real problem on your hands, and simply ignoring it will not make it go away.

Perhaps we will be treated to a True Scotsman Dessert Fallacy as well. (“Those guys? They’re not true Catholics. They’re not like me!”)

True Catholics are those who hold to all the dogmas of the Catholic Church. People who do not hold to these dogmas are not Catholics, plain and simple. So, your flippant remark has no basis in reality, Mr. Holding. …Nor does it supply an apologetic for your own “sloppy house” which possesses no such objective standard for unity or orthodoxy. Again, I must use the word: “relativism.”

But so it goes, around in the same circle, as we are told that Tradition is verified by “the Christ-established, Spirit-guided authority of the Catholic Church” (never mind epistemic justification of THOSE authorities;

Mr. Holding, …. Those authorities DO NOT NEED epistemic justification, just as Christ Himself does not, because He IS the Truth; and those whom He has established are empowered to speak for He Who is the Truth. This is what you are not seeing. And you are blind to this appreciation because you simply cannot relate to it. It is evidently beyond your ability, as a slave to academia, to understand. 🙂 Amazing! But, if you step back for a moment and consider that Catholicism REALLY DOES make this seemingly outlandish claim —the claim that the Catholic Church, because of Christ’s promises, can speak infallibly in the Name of God, then perhaps we can begin to communicate with each other. But, until you grant the fact that Catholics believe this, you simply are not going to make any progress here because I am speaking a language that is apparently alien to you. 🙂

all we are told is, in essence, if you don’t like it, too bad).

YES! Exactly! This is EXACTLY what Catholics believe. 🙂 Go read Matt 18:17-18. Go read Luke 10:10-12. No “evidence” is presented here; just the authority of the Catholic Church, which speaks in the Name of Jesus Christ. And, if you do not accept that Christ-given authority, then hey … That’s your choice. But, IF you are a Christian, what you cannot deny is that your Bible and a whole lot of your other strongly-held beliefs (e.g. the authorship of Matthew’s Gospel) comes to you via this SAME Catholic authority –the same Apostolic Tradition of the Catholic Church. …which was, of course, my initial point and the thing which started this silly exchange.

I think enough has been shown to prove that like Humpty Dumpty, Mr. Bonocore defines “subjective” and “objective” in ways that his tastes suit him.

🙂 Sorry, Mr. Holding. My “tastes” have nothing to do with it. Rather, what I believe (and what all true Catholics believe) is that the Catholic Church, in matters of faith and morals, DEFINES REALITY for all mankind; and it does this because it speaks for Christ (or, more properly, Christ speaks through it), and Christ Himself is the definition of reality –He is the Truth. That is called an objective standard of orthodoxy. If the Church officially teaches something, then that is objective truth. If my subjective judgment happens to disagree, then I am wrong and the Church is right, and I must submit to the Church in obedience (see Heb 13:17). You, however, and the rest of the Protestant world have nothing like this. …which is why you have trouble relating to it, and why it so rubs you the wrong way. Instead, your personal beliefs (no matter what they may be at the moment) reign supreme. And this would be fine as an objective standard IF you, like the Catholic Church, profess to be personally infallible. However (and I’m just assuming, since you never said one way or the other:-)), you do not profess to be personally infallible. Therefore, what you’re saying is that your personal discernment and/or judgment (which, again, is your only ultimate authority –the only thing which, in the end, you obey) is a purely subjective exercise and something that could be deluded or even in serious error. You therefore admit that you have no objective standard for determining Christian orthodoxy; and so, for you, Christianity can only be a relativistic faith. And, if you think that I am incorrect about this, Mr. Holding, why don’t you try actually showing me where I am incorrect instead of all this tap dancing around that you are currently doing. 🙂

In the end we may as well have been addressing Jack Chick or Ernest Angley as Mark Bonocore; the only question is, whose head is deeper in the sand?

Cute, Mr. Holding. However, you, I’m afraid are the one standing on shifting sand. I, by the grace of God, happen to be standing on a Rock.

And now with your nonsense out of the way, we turn to the more substantive (although ignorant and misguided) challenges of my fellow Catholic, Mr. Matt Paulson.

Mr. Paulson writes …

Matt Paulson also adds:I was rather taken aback by Bonocore’s response to Holding’s critique of his (Bonocore’s) argument pro traditio, and having read both, I offer the following brief comments. This will not be a thorough interaction with Bonocore’s response, as my plate is rather full at the moment, and at any rate, I’m not certain that the tone and level of argument offered by Bonocore has risen to a level worthy of sustained interaction. First, let me make the following clear. I am a Roman Catholic, and theologically conservative Roman Catholic at that. I submit all of my own judgments to the authority of the Church, and if I were made aware of any claim wrongly advanced on my part–as regards matters of dogma, or even custom–I would gladly withdraw such claims, and submit to the Church.

Very good, Mr. Paulson. 🙂 So far we are on the same page. See how Catholics regard the authority of the Church as our objective standard, Mr. Holding? You, however, possess nothing like that.

But, Mr. Paulson goes on ….

Thus, *with* Bonocore, I accept the importance of Tradition, and that Tradition is intrinsic to Christian faith. *With* Bonocore, I reject the doctrine of Sola Scriptura. I myself have a number of reasons for this two-fold stance, principal among which are the a priori argument for the necessity of Tradition and the form of the Faith in the early fathers of the Church. Though it is not my intention here to dwell on the Sola Scriptura/Scripture and Tradition debate, I feel it necessary here to make my own position clear because of a certain paragraph in Bonocore’s response, namely, “Well, I fail to see how any faithful Catholic could be so “burned” by adhering to the Catholic dogmatic belief in Sacred oral Tradition. Obviously, this so-called “Catholic reader” of yours is no such thing, but can only be a liberal-modernist dissdent who wishes to imitate your own Protestant errors. Very sad.” After reading Bonocore’s response to Holding, and especially in light of the fact that it is rather full of claims such as the above, I was initially tempted to put my Greek and Latin texts on the shelf for a day or two, and render to Bonocore a response as sarcastic as he deserves.

🙂 Well, I appreciate your ire, Mr. Paulson. And, if you truly are a conservative (that is, a “right-minded”) Catholic, then I will even go so far as to apologize for my remarks about you and to admit that they were prejudiced and out of line. However, what is someone like myself to conclude when you are cited as a “consultant” for a blatant Protestant relativist like Mr. Holding in an article attacking a very sound illustration of the reality of our Sacred Traditions? In this same article, you are also quoted calling me a “fundamentalist”? …And I would submit that that was prejudiced and premature on your part. Or would you disagree?

*I* am the Catholic in question; it was *I* who claimed that Bonocore’s argument was (and is) indicative of a mental fundamentalism.

Well, you are also grossly mistaken, then, “brother Catholic.” 🙂 Again, you speak in ignorance of my true position.

And Bonocore’s response with regard to my claim only proves the point, for there is *no way* that *anyone* reading what Holding quoted me as saying could *rightly* take me as saying, or *implying* that Tradition is in any sense at fault.

That was not what I objected to in your quoted statement, Mr. Paulson. My objection and criticism was directed to your assertion that holding to the Catholic Traditions of the fathers can “burn” us. I will illustrate why in detail below.

My point was that Bonocore’s argument *for* it was, and is, poor.

🙂 I see.

Thus when we see Bonocore attempt to pit the whole of orthodox Catholicism against me, to wit, “As for his suggestion that I am a “Catholic fundamentalist,” one wonders if this person would also classify the Popes and the fathers of our Ecumenical Councils as “fundamentalists” as well, since they too all uphold the dogma of Sacred oral Tradition (see the Council of Trent, Vatican I, Vatican II, etc.). Ergo, this person is clearly not a Catholic in any realistic sense of the word, but no doubt another “intellectual” relativist like Mr. Holding himself.” . . . we see clearly that Bonocore has sailed rather wide of the mark. I never once rejected, or implied, or began to imply, or began to begin to imply that I reject Tradition.

You said that invoking Catholic oral Tradition in the manner that I did may “burn” us. I respectfully, yet strongly, disagree.

This incident with Bonocore reminds me of something that happened last winter. I had been fortunate enough to help get Richard Swinburne, perhaps the most renowned Christian philosopher in the world, to attend our university for a debate over the existence of God. Having a decent background in philosophy and logic, I was rather pleased with the debate and the strength of Swinburne’s presentation. Much to my surprise, however, was the reaction of certain of my fellow Christians, who lamented the fact that Swinburne did not say that Christianity *necessarily excludes* evolution, and that Swinburne allowed the possibility of unbelievers to be saved (the fact that Swinburne was, on both points, in agreement with CS Lewis was for them little consolation, as they’d never read Lewis, and were quite sure that if this were so, then Lewis must be as wrong as Swinburne since “Scripture means Scripture”). It was obvious that the central form of Swinburne’s argument for the existence of God (i.e., the positing of the simplest theory possible [the existence of the Christian God] to explain the phenomena that we experience [the universe and all things within it]) had gone completely over their heads, and furthermore, that they were (literally) in no position whatever even to recognize a good argument, were it there. After a few minutes of conversing with them, they told me what Swinburne ought to have argued: that faith is necessary and that God exists because the Bible says so.

Well, I fail to see how any of this applies to me, Mr. Paulson. I, first of all, hold (with Swinburne and Lewis) that both evolution and salvation for those outside of the institutional limits of the Church are (or can be) quite compatible with Apostolic Christianity. So, again, your presumption that I am a sort of fundamentalist (and it was you, don’t forget, who threw the first presumptive stones) is unwarranted. Indeed, it seems to me that what is happening here is that you and I are being “introduced” to each other via the prism of Mr. Holding’s “progressive” apostolate and contextual point of view, where a sort of anti-fundamentalist crusade is taking place, and things which even have the faintest “scent” of fundamentalism are being immediately jumped on. I, on the other hand, was reacting to the presumption of the opposite error —the error of liberal-modernism and its similar worship of academia (where it is rampant these days). So, might I suggest that the two of us back off for a moment and try to better appreciate each other’s points of view, which I suspect are not that different.

Back to the point, the parallel I see with Bonocore and myself is this: Bonocore’s position seems to me to be defined entirely by his own narrow perspective, and the *worth* of his position seems to me to be entirely *exhausted by* his engagement with rabid anti-Catholic apologists, who indeed share with Bonocore the same narrowness, which in its turn explains why they make such fitting partners in dialogue with one another.

You could not be more wrong about me, Mr. Paulson. 🙂

They are tone deaf to everything but that which may be applied, in debate, to the subjects upon which they share a monomania from opposing perspectives. I am every bit as Catholic as Bonocore himself, and I just as strongly affirm the doctrine of Tradition. The difference between us is that the intellectual background of my affirmation is one which is grounded in the thought of persons such as Irenaeus, Origen, Athanasius, Augustine, Bonaventure, Cardinal Newman, etc., whereas Bonocore’s seems to be something like that of those who hunt down proof-texts in order to counter the proof-texts offered by equally simple-minded Protestants.

🙂 Well, I admit that I have engaged with quite a few simple-minded Protestants in my day, and perhaps this has even colored a few of my articles. As I told Mr. Holding, the article your criticized was written for Fundamentalists Protestants. However, I too sit at the feet of Irenaeus, Origen, Athanasius, Augustine, Bonaventure, and Cardinal Newman; and, with respect, I almost certainly have a deeper (and far more familiar) appreciation of them than you yourself do.

I am reminded of the feeling of nausea that overcomes me when I see apologists use the fathers as though they were proof-text-bearing-trees, showing no evidence whatever of a desire to actually engage the form of their theology, but rather, taking from them only that which they can use in the context of the debate that they are engaged in (in this respect I dislike both Protestant *and* Catholic amateur apologists who, for example, have a link on their websites to the effect that: “St. Augustine affirmed the Papacy, click here!”, or, “Basil of Caesarea affirms Sola Scriptura, click here!”, and this followed by a string of proof texts divorced from context, followed by the apologist’s commentary thereupon, which *always* indicates a complete insensitivity to the respective fathers who they summon on their behalf).

Well, while I share your aversion to sloppy proof texts, Mr. Paulson, needless to say, one is not about to discuss the intricacies of some mature theological proposition by de Luc or von Balthasar with the your average Fundamentalist Protestant from the Bible Belt. 🙂 Different audiences require different approaches. Was it not St. Paul who speaks of offering milk to those who are not ready for solid food? What’s more, there is a profound difference between providing quotes from Augustine that support the Papacy vs. quotes from Basil the Great which supposedly support sola Scriptura. Why? Because, even though they may be proof texts, the ones used to support Catholicism always (with very few exceptions) fit within the comprehensive framework of that father’s theological or ecclesial position. The Protestant proof texts do not, but, at best, use Protestant-sounding terminology out of historical or textual context.

Thus it is little surprise that Bonocore has missed entirely the point of Holding’s article (which did not *itself* explicitly attack the notion of Tradition, [though Holding himself no doubt does not affirm the high status of Tradition as accepted by Catholics] but, as with my own complaint, attacked simply Bonocore’s *defense* of it).

Well, it is unfortunate, then, Mr. Paulson (and perhaps this is because you are friends with Mr. Holding, who knows?) that you did not follow Mr. Holdings assertions through to their logical conclusion ….since Mr. Holdings “spin” on sola Scriptura still leads him back to the very thing I criticized in my initial article (again, directed to Fundamentalists) –namely, the fact that all adherents to sola Scriptura (even if they “nuance” the false doctrine and are willing to entertain some extra-Scriptural traditions) arrive at a purely-subjective, relativistic style of Christianity; and this is because such Protestants reject the idea that there is a universal and consistent BODY of Apostolic oral Tradition that is equally authoritative with Scripture.

Had Bonocore the eyes to see it, Holding’s article actually provides opportunity for engaging the possible virtue of Tradition.

Not when Bonocore is being called a “fundamentalist” there is not. This tends to “cloud” one’s eyes and enflame one’s righteous indignation. 🙂 Clearly, the error of Mr. Holding’s “indifference” (read: disdain) for the authority of Catholic Sacred Tradition far outweighs the benefit of his willingness to consider the historical legitimacy of some extra-Scriptural material (viz. his nuanced style of sola Scriptura). When the authority of Apostolic Tradition is being attacked, there is little room for establishing common ground via ecumenical dialogue. And, frankly, it is a disgrace that you allowed yourself to be an agent of this agenda, Mr. Paulson. Or perhaps you cannot even see that?

Yet Bonocore did not see this; rather, he took a refutation of his *argument* as a rejection of himself.

Again, Mr. Paulson. How else is one to react when one (without any private engagement whatsoever) is publicly branded as a “fundamentalist” on someone’s website???

And this implies, for those whose mindset is like that of Bonocore, a rejection of that which he argued *for* (i.e., “There is a one-one correspondence between Catholicism and my own perspective”, etc.)

I never claimed that I am a definition of Catholicism, Mr. Paulson. Yet, I do stand by my initial article as well as my last response to Mr. Holding. For, you are the one who is in error here, not me. I will illustrate why this is so below.

Bonocore argues that Tradition is intrinsic to the living Faith of Christianity–indeed, epistemically on par with Scripture itself. I myself fully agree. My problem is that Bonocore’s argument is utterly misguided.

“Fully agree” ….”utterly misguided.” These statements don’t seem to go together very well, Mr. Paulson. 🙂

Holding is no doubt correct to assert that the authorship of, e.g., Matthew, can be vindicated *without* relying solely on the testimony of Tradition; rather, points out Holding, let us simply assess the evidence objectively, and doing such, we will see that from the empirical evidence offered (both internal and external), the integrity of Matthean authorship is rather plausible, especially *if* one is willing to grant the integrity of merely secular sources (for which the external evidence especially is not at all comparable to that of the NT documents).

Well, what can I say, Mr. Paulson? Like Mr. Holding, you too confuse the issues of academia and authority here. Perhaps this is because you are at university at the moment. However, as you grow older, you will hopefully come to realize that not everyone is an intellectual. While I certainly agree that a theoretical CASE can be made for the authorship of Matthew from existing empirical evidence, this is far from conclusive. What’s more, the fact remains that most Protestant Christians (esp. the Fundamentalist) do not believe that Matthew wrote this Gospel because of any empirical evidence, but rather because this is what was passed down to them by their Protestant forefathers, who in turn received it without question from their Catholic forefathers. In other words, these Protestants subscribe to a clear TRADITION …a Tradition that they inherited directly from the Catholic Church. Ergo, my initial article, in which I asked the very valid question: Why do otherwise professed sola Scriptura believers accept this particular Catholic Tradition without question, while rejecting others from the very same Apostolic deposit? And, again, my initial point stands.

In passing I mention that Bonocore’s misguided attempt to rebut this latter point of Holding’s is especially unfortunate. For example, leaving aside for the moment the fact that our earliest extant manuscript of the Platonic corpus is from the Middle Ages, Bonocore is certainly wrong to suppose that the dialogues of Plato are of “unquestionable integrity”

Please permit me to interject here, Mr. Paulson. Yes, the oldest Platonic corpus that we presently have is medieval (8th Century); by no older than the oldest existing Masoretic text of the Hebrew Old Testament. Also, the Platonic codices come to us from Constantinople, where Plato (and a great many other ancient works in Greek) were continuously copied and preserved since antiquity, being widely known among the Byzantines, both in ecclesial and in secular circles. So, that makes their integrity pretty solid. In fact, the Platonic codices that we have are direct copies of the nine tetralogies compiled by Thrasyllus in the 1st Century A.D. For, they can be traced back with complete certainly to at least the time of the Gospels. …which, of course, overturns Mr. Holdings rash assertion that the Gospels possess unequaled attestation.

–let Bonocore compare Xenophon’s apology for Socrates with that of Plato, and tell us why the latter is to be preferred to the former. The Socratic dialogue was a literary form, and any specialist in Plato knows that the dialogues cannot be read simply as “reportage” (does Bonocore intend to imply that Socrates had a conversation with Parmenides in order to present to him Plato’s doctrine of Forms, and this several decades before Plato himself even existed?)

Go back and read my exchange with Mr. Holding, Mr. Paulson. You are again jumping to conclusions about me and my positions, quick (as you are) to brand me as some kind of “fundamentalist.” My contention was never that Plato is accurately reporting the sayings of Socrates (or even that Socrates is anything more than a mere character in the Dialogues). Rather, what I disputed was Mr. Holding’s assertion that the Gospels are better attested to than any other work of ancient literature; and I cited the Dialogues of Plato (be they attempts at “documentary” or merely pure fiction) as an example to frustrate Mr. Holding’s rash claim. Clearly, no one from the 5th Century B.C. until today disputed that these Dialogues were authored by Plato the disciple of Socrates. That was my point. In other words, we know (within reason) when the books were written and who it was who wrote them. We cannot, from a secular and academic point of view, apply the same certainty to Matthew’s Gospel.

Furthermore, what grounds has Bonocore for accepting that Plutarch’s account of Caesar or Demosthenes is accurate?

I never claimed that Plutarch was necessarily accurate, Mr. Paulson. I claimed that his authorship of the books is well attested and never disputed. It is authorship, don’t forget, that we were discussing.

Can the “integrity” of these accounts be had *without* recourse to . . . the Catholic Church?

Sure. But, two things … 1) The attestation of Plato and Plutarch is BETTER than that of the Gospels (since the authorship of the books was publicly assigned to them within the lifetime of their authors), thus refuting Mr. Holding’s assertion; and 2) No one goes around claiming that Plato or Plutarch are the Word of God. 🙂 Thus, the “stakes” attached to Plato and Plutarch are much lower than is that of a sola Scriptura believer’s acceptance of the Gospel of Matthew. Indeed, in accepting the Gospel of Matthew as the inspired Word of God, the sola Scriptura believer is all but screaming the fact that he trusts the origin of this sacred literature. And, so, despite Mr. Holding’s “disregard” for the necessity of origins, the sola Scriptura believer is forced to accept and trust the WITNESS of the Catholic Church; and in a way in which he must accept the Church’s testimony as infallible. For, if Matthew was not authored by Matthew —if it was not a first-hand witness as Tradition (both that of Catholicism and that of the Protestant sects) claims it to be, then it is not (so the Christian standard goes) inspired by God and a work of reliable Scripture.

If not, then Bonocore is a maniac and he has no right to believe anything that has not yet been issued in a papal bull–including his own mother’s account of his own birth.

So, now I’m moved on from “fundamentalist” to “maniac.” My, my, Mr. Paulson, how Mr. Holding has colored your view of me. 🙂

If he *will* allow that the integrity of these works can be assessed by recourse to historical criticism, then Bonocore has accepted that historical documents can be validated according to a canon that is independent of that of the Catholic Church, and since the authorship of Matthew is at least partially an historical question, it too can be analyzed according to those canons just as much as the writings of Plutarch.

Sure. No problem. But, as I said, this is not why the vast majority of Protestants accept Matthew as authored by Matthew. Rather, as with its Divine inspiration, the authorship of the Gospel is accepted as a matter of oral Tradition, courtesy of the Catholic Church. This is simply the practical reality of the matter, Mr. Paulson. What’s more, as I also said, the historical analysis of Matthew’s Gospel does not give conclusive proof that it was authored by Matthew. At the very best, all that a historian can do is validate the fact that there is a Christian tradition that the Apostle Matthew authored it, and then either argue for or against that proposition. As I’m sure you know, the vast majority of modern scholars would champion the latter. Also, as I touched on, there is the matter of Divine inspiration itself, which is also part of the Catholic tradition and something that all sola Scriptura believers “hold fast” to in regard to Matthew —that “God breathed, and Matthew wrote.” However, not only is there no written account of this notion (certainly not in the pages of Matthew itself …not even to the extent that Luke refers to his own initiative in Luke 1:1-4), but one simply cannot cite the discipline of history to account for it, since the Divine inspiration of this book is purely doctrinal in nature, and so proper to the realm of Catholic teaching itself …teaching which was unquestionably passed down to the Protestants from their Catholic forefathers and then preserved, despite itself, among sola Scriptura believers.

This does not imply that the “jurisdiction” of the Catholic Church could be overruled by that of modern historians; rather, it implies that one need not be Catholic in order to accept as true everything accepted as true by Catholicism.

But, as our Jewish friends would say, “I couldn’t hurt.” 🙂 Again, Mr. Paulson you refer here to the issue of authority (“jurisdiction”) and you juxtapose it with empirical evidence. However, like Mr. Holding, you fail to properly differentiate between the two. In other words, you fail to account for the fact that authority works very differently than scholarship –both in terms of conclusiveness and in terms of its religiously binding nature. In the case of Matthew’s Gospel, as I already discussed, most Protestants fervently believe that it was authored by Matthew and inspired by God based on Tradition, not because of any scholarly analysis or intellectual certitude. And, again, while a case can be made for Matthew’s historical authorship, a case is not conclusive proof; nor can such historical analysis account for a Protestant’s belief in the Gospel’s Divine inspiration. Rather, all of this is based on Tradition …and that Tradition comes from the Apostolic Deposit of the Catholic Church. So, as with the authorship of any ancient literary work, one can have extra-Ecclesial scholarly opinions and debates up to kazoo; and one can even acquire very strong personal certitude that one’s particular position is sound (e.g. “a blind Ionian bard named Homer really did compose the Iliad”). However, none of this addresses the practical reality of why the vast majority of Protestants (or most Catholics, for that matter) believe that the Apostle Matthew is the author of the first canonical Gospel. This belief, as I keep saying, is based solely on Tradition; and thus the thrust of my original article in which I challenged such Protestants to accept the other oral Traditions of the Catholic Church.

If Bonocore cannot see this, then I honestly pity his readership, and recommend that Bonocore himself spend some time with the writings of the apologists of the first four centuries of the Church, and this *without* the whole time seeking proof-texts to buttress his polemics.

Bonocore sees very well, thank you, Mr. Paulson. It is, unfortunately, Mr. Holding and yourself who fail to see the difference between intellectual theory and binding authority when it comes to the practical reality of why Protestants accept the authorship and inspiration of Matthew. In this, I can only conclude that you both spend too much time in academic circles, and so have difficulty seeing the forest for the trees —that is, a simple reality in the face of concern for deeper analysis. 🙂

Back to more pressing concerns, Bonocore has demonstrated an insensitivity to scholarship.

Oh? 🙂

Holding’s work is primarily that of an apologist, and the central context of his writing is that of one always with an eye on the defense of the faith against the unbeliever.

However, he apparently is totally unequipped for dealing with the sensibilities of believers. In other words, Holding fails to realize that not every argument is against a skeptic, and that inter-Christian debate requires a different set of tools. I pray that you do not follow him into this mire, Mr. Paulson.

In order for such a defense, the believer must meet the unbeliever on his own ground; if Bonocore has a problem with this modus operandi, let him also reject the writings of *St* Justin Martyr, *St* Clement of Alexandria, and the apologetic enterprise of the Cappadocians (being *Ss* Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and Gregory of Nyssa) not to mention *St* Augustine’s _The City of God_, *St* Thomas Aquinas’ entire theological enterprise (as much indebted to Aristotle), the Theo-Logic of Hans Urs von Balthasar, and the phenomenological anthropology of Pope John Paul II. In other words, if Bonocore wishes to present the claim that the affirmation of Catholic dogma necessarily implies a narrow-circled fideism sharing no common ground with the world at large, let him recognize the fact that the Catholic dogma that he affirms is more the result of his own narrow perspective than the thing itself which he claims to see.

Again, Mr. Paulson, you totally mischaracterize my theological positions, and this is, as I said, no doubt because you view me through Mr. Holding’s pseudo-intellectual rose-colored glasses. I am certainly not opposed to apologetics directed to the unbeliever; and I salute Mr. Holding’s efforts in that area. Where I oppose him is in his rather pathetic, pseudo-intellectual attempts at dealing with the realm of Christian believers; and he has shortcomings in this area because a) he is a material heretic (a Protestant intellectual) and b) he unwisely presumes that the same techniques used to argue with skeptics are suited to believing Christians viz. doctrinal issues as well. They are not. However, Mr. Holding fails to see this, assumes that all valid doctrine is a matter of intellectual pursuit (with no appreciation of binding authority), and so I, of course, am unjustly branded as a “fundamentalist” –NOT because that is my theological position, but because (without checking with me first), Mr. Holding (and yourself) happened to catch me addressing the fundamentals! Needless to say, Mr. Paulson, addressing the fundamentals does not a fundamentalist make. 🙂 Rather, a fundamentalist is one who holds to the fundamentals to the exclusion of everything else. Yet, you never bothered to approach me and discover whether or not I rejected “everything else.” Rather, because the two of you apparently have a serious maturity problems with intellectual pride (and, in Mr. Holdings case, it is pseudo-intellectual pride …at least when it comes to this particular topic, or perhaps to inter-Christian dynamics in general), you both rashly PRESUMED that I am merely a narrow-minded zealot. 🙂 Well, you picked on the wrong guy, Mr. Paulson. …And this is what you get when you violate the principal laid down by Jesus in Matt 18:15-17, and unquestionably side with a Protestant heretic against a brother Catholic …especially without privately checking with that Catholic first. That is a no-no, Mr. Paulson; and it’s a pity that such things are not stressed in Catholic universities anymore. Oh, to have the old-time Jesuits back! 🙂

Also … Above you cite the “ad genes” works of Catholic authorities ranging from Justin Martyr to Pope John Paul. However, as even Mr. Holding must admit, Mr. Paulson, something like St. Justin’s Apologia does not attempt to convince Roman pagans of the more ‘complicated’ internal aspects of Christian doctrine –areas which are proper to discussion among believers, and which involve issues of authority, and cannot be discerned by intellectual argument alone. This is why, for example, Ireneaus and others tell Christian heretics (who are already believers …at least imperfectly) to check the common Tradition of the various city-churches to see how there is no hint of Gnostic doctrine among them. This, of course, is an appeal to authority, Mr. Paulson; and it is this which you and Mr. Holding consistently downplay in application to this issue.

As for Bonocore’s argument itself, it can be refuted rather easily, and my claim with regard thereto (i.e., that were it consistently applied, it would be the ruin of the defense of Catholicism) can itself be justified just as easily.

Prepare to be embarrassed, Mr. Paulson. 🙂

Bonocore claims that a Protestant, in order to believe that the gospels are authored by those who we believe them to be authored by, must necessarily affirm Tradition. Now, Tradition itself, in this context, refers to a belief regarding the epistemic necessity of a mode of dogmatic transmission on par with the Gospels. However, in a more concrete sense, Tradition is a series of claims regarding various issues, be it the dual natures of the God-Man, the divinity of the Spirit, the efficacy of sacraments, or the authorship of this or that book. In the first sense, Tradition is a posited theological affirmation, and discussion with regard thereto must be primarily philosophical in nature; in the second case, Tradition is a series of statements which in their turn belong to what is commonly refered to as “history”, and discussion with regard to *these* must be primarily *historical* in nature.

Authority, Mr. Paulson. Authority.:-) Like Mr. Holding, you fail to address the dynamic of authority, upon which (esp. in a religious context) both history and doctrine depend. Despite what modern academics tend to presume, history is not a secular or secularly-objective phenomenon, but the product of a particular point of view –written by “the winners”; or, for our purposes, by a particular Covenant people: ancient Catholic Christians. If one wishes to accept the “historical evidence” that Matthew authored the first canonical Gospel, then what one is doing is accepting the authoritative voice of the Catholic Church; and, from that point of view (the point of view of authority), it is no different than accepting the voice of this same Catholic Church when it speaks of the Hypostatic Union of Christ, the efficacy of the Sacraments, or some other doctrinal issue.

And because of this intrinsically historical aspect of Tradition, the various claims that constitute it can be used in an historical enterprise to validate the question of the integrity of the gospels; in this case, the veracity of the truth of its claims will be measured by the canons of the historical sciences, regardless of theological positions. If the case offered by the apologist satisfies the requirements of *those* canons, then it is valid in *that* respect (i.e., e.g., if Holding can show that Matthew was most probably written by Matthew by the use of the historical method, then the result of this is that Matthew probably was written by Matthew, and *because* the proof was historical–not theological–it is such that it can be accepted by those who accept the methods of historical science, but not those of Christian theology.)

You again confuse intellectual theory with binding Divine authority. Most Protestants who believe that Matthew authored the Gospel do so from a perspective of Divine authority, Mr. Paulson. What they fail to consider is the source of this Divine authority, which is of course the Catholic Church. Ergo, my initial set of propositions.

Of course, were Bonocore correct in asserting that Holding could affirm the Matthean authorship of Matthew *only* by recourse to Tradition, Christianity would have died off long ago, for Bonocore’s argument is viciously circular.

No, it is not, Mr. Paulson. My argument is one of binding authority. You evidently fail to grasp this.

To cite one striking example, Cardinal Newman, who converted to Catholicism *because of* his intense analysis of early Christianity (*as* an Anglican and *without* presupposing outright the truth of Catholicism), would never have converted to Catholicism if purely historical inquiry were an illegitimate modus operandi for discovering truth.

Sigh! 🙂 I never said that purely historical inquiry cannot be a modus operandi for discovering truth. I merely argue that pure historical inquiry is subjective in nature and requires something more to be infallible. As in Newman’s own case, this is of course the Rock-like authority of Christ’s Catholic Church. For, what you fail to address above is that Newman was led to Catholicism because he ACCEPTED the authoritative testimony of ancient Catholic Christians, and thereafter that of the Catholic Church of his own day (i.e., the newly defined dogma of Papal Infallibility, which he submitted to despite personal reservations). So, the Church’s authority WAS involved. What’s more, I have never said that unquestionably presupposing the truth of Catholicism is required for the non-Catholic. Rather, what I said, in answer to Mr. Holding’s musings, is that the Catholic Church IS its own objective authority, whether one wishes to presuppose this or not. Mr. Holding, however, calls this “circular reasoning,” whereas you yourself say, “I submit all of my own judgments to the authority of the Church, and if I were made aware of any claim wrongly advanced on my part–as regards matters of dogma, or even custom–I would gladly withdraw such claims, and submit to the Church.” This is a glaring difference between yourself and the approach of Mr. Holding; which, again, is the very thing that I was referring to –i.e., the authority of the Catholic Church as our accepted and infallible objective standard of orthodoxy. Indeed, even in my so-called “fundamentalist” article, I merely challenged the sola Scriptura believer to consider the validity of Catholic Sacred Traditons (apart from the presumed authorship of Matthew) and to account for his (or her) failure to accept these Traditions when they come from the same deposit as the tradition about the origins of Matthew. This is not a demand to presuppose Catholic authority, Mr. Paulson; but rather an illustration of the validity (and consistency) of Catholic authority.

But more troubling for Bonocore’s narrow stance, how does he know *which* portions of Tradition to accept? Those that the Catholic Church *today* tells him to?

No, Mr. Paulson. Those which the CATHOLIC (read: universal) Church has always official endorsed. Your liberal academic friends have evidently taught you to confuse regional theolegoumena with Catholic Tradition, and to view both as the same thing. Big mistake. More on this below.

But in that case, what right would he have for believing that the Catholic Church of *today* is that of Tradition?

Because of Jesus’ promises to His Church, Mr. Paulson; and because, as a Catholic, I see the Church of Christ as a “Semitic totality” that transcends time —a consistent Covenantal body preserved in truth by the Holy Spirit throughout the ages. A Protestant (limited to academic discernment alone) cannot appreciate this. However, a Catholic like yourself should easily be able to.

Let him tell us why the Orthodox believer is not justified in assuming outright the correctness of Orthodoxy, and citing as proof the correctness of refusing the Filioque the writings of *St* Photius, and citing as proof of the validity of the opinions of *St* Photius the fact that the Orthodox Tradition affirms that he is right, and citing as proof that the Orthodox Tradition is right the fact that . . . ad infinitum.

First of all, the Catholic Church never approved of the canonization / glorification of “Saint” Photius. While the Byzantine Catholics still have him on their books, that is an unfortunate and sloppy error of the less-than-perfect union that exists between Rome and these former schismatics (our agreement on orthodox doctrine, albeit in different theological modes, is a miracle in its own right; and so we should not look a gift horse in the mouth:-) ). Secondly, the popular Byzantine rejection of Filioque is a matter of regional thelegoumenon, not an aspect of Apostolic Catholic (universal) Tradition. Clearly, the Eastern Orthodox are hard-pressed to explain why nearly every Latin father (and a number of Greek ones …e.g. St. Maximos the Confessor) is on record as promoting or defending the theology of Filioque, and this during periods in which East and West were solidly in communion with each other. Thirdly, as I mentioned, the Greek theological tradition (albeit merely a regional expression of the Catholic –universal –faith), is not defined by Photius alone, but also by the Alexandrian school, which supports the Filioque. ….as do the Cappadocians to a lesser degree. Indeed, viewed against the vast scope of the Greek theological schema, the Pneumology of Photius is both novel and quite isolated; and it was only the prevailing theocratic “nationalism” of the medieval Byzantine state (complete with its anti-Roman agenda) which propelled Photius’ convictions to a central place in modern Eastern Orthodox theology. As any honest theologian will tell you, Christian Pneumology was simply never addressed in comprehensive detail by any of the Councils or by the Greeks themselves prior to Photius’ rash and very bigoted presumptions (which, again, were driven by personal and political ambitions).

Bonocore believes that Matthew was written by Matthew because Bonocore affirms Tradition; because Bonocore affirms Tradition, he is able to affirm that Matthew was written by Matthew. But what Tradition testifies to Matthean authorship? Bonocore cites Papias and Irenaeus. What, then, does he make of Irenaeus’ affirmation that Jesus lived into his mid- to late- forties?

Again, Mr. Paulson, you confuse regional theolegoumena with the universally-approved Apostolic Traditions of the Church …not so much here, but in ways I’ll address in a moment. In regard to Ireneaus supposedly claiming that Jesus was in His forties, … That is a very common misreading of Ireneaus, which I will not address in detail here. Let us simply say that Jesus’ precise age is not Irenaus’ point; and if you wish to understand what Ireneaus is really saying, please check out my article at However, more to the point, you pose this challenge to me because you think it threatens my article’s reliance on CATHOLC (universal) Tradition. However, it most certainly does not. For, Catholics (and, indeed, most Christians), following the authority of a universally-held Tradition —namely, that the narrative of John’s Gospel is intended to be taken literally, and so presents a literal, three-year scenario, believe that Jesus suffered and rose from the dead when He was 33 years of age. Now, you yourself, and I presume Mr. Holding as well, apparently believe the same thing —that John presents a literal chronology and that Jesus was only 33 years old. However, … If we are to go with scholarly analysis alone, and if the BINDING AUTHORITY of this Tradition is a non-issue, then the age of Jesus is suddenly up for grabs. For, what if John is not presenting a literal, 3-year chronology (so as to correct and adjust the “poetic” one-year chronology of the Synoptics)? What if the three Passovers in John’s narrative are just incidental and not intended to be consecutive to each other? Well, if that were the case, and if someone like Ireneaus were to say that Jesus lived into His forties (although Ireneaus, in reality, says no such thing), then who would you or I be to dispute such a statement? Rather, it is only the TRADITIONAL, universally-held Catholic belief that John’s chronology is a literal, three-year one (intended to correct the common misconception, based on the Synoptic narratives, that Jesus only preached for one year …and Ireneaus himself, for those who know how to read him, addresses this very issue), … It is only this CATHOLIC (universal) Tradition (with its BINDING AUTHORITY) which leads you to dispute Ireneaus’ apparent (though misunderstood) statement. Otherwise, you would have no reason to conclude that a forty-year-old Jesus is a problem at all. Indeed, left to your own intellectual devices, divorced from the Traditional understanding that John’s chronology is literal (and so gives us Jesus’ true age), it would be ridiculous to conclude anything but that Ireneaus and his fellow early Christians believed that Jesus was in His forties and that John’s Gospel (the Gospel of Ireneaus’ own native Asian chuch) does not present a literal chronology. So, it is the Church itself which gives you the true (universal) Tradition; and Ireneaus also (if you know how to read him properly) actually backs this up.

As for the use of Ireneaus and his appeal to oral Traditions (i.e., Mary as the New Eve, the primacy of Rome, and the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist) in my initial article, … If you REALLY wanted to challenge my position, you would cite the fact that Ireneaus (unlike a modern Catholics) was a Millenarian who believed that Jesus would return and rule an earthly Kingdom for one-thousand years. This, far more than the commonly misunderstood statement about Jesus’ age, represents a very real and substantial problem for any “Catholic fundamentalist” who wishes to present Ireneaus as a champion of oral Tradition. 🙂 But, as I keep illustrating for you, I am not a fundamentalist. And, since I am not a fundamentalist, I (along with all other rational Catholic intellectuals) am able to distinguish between UNIVERSAL Traditions held by the early Church and mere regional theolegoumena, such as the early belief in Millenarianism, which was a) limited to the ancient Asian churches alone, b) directly denied by the other contemporary regions of the ancient universal Church, and c) rooted in a pastoral legend (akin to the belief that the Apostle John would live until Jesus’ return, per John 21:23), which was never properly dispelled among the early Asian Christians and those who were directly influenced by them (e.g. Justin Martyr, who lived for a time in Ephesus). However, debunking Millenarianism aside, Ireneaus is very much a reliable witness for those oral Traditions which WERE held universally by the rest of the ancient Church; and 1) Mary as the New Eve, 2) the primacy of the church of Rome, and 3) the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist —the three oral Traditions that I cited in my initial article –WERE Traditions held UNIVERSALLY by all orthodox Christians in Ireneaus’ day, and from earliest times. Ergo, my initial argument stands, and stands quite beautifully. Once understood in context, there is no way in which a Catholic can get “burned” by it, as you and Mr. Holding allege.

And, similarly, with the case of Papias, you write …

Or what does he make of Papias’ attribution of the saying that, “The days will come in which vines shall grow, having each ten thousand branches [. . .]”, and so on, to the “elders who saw John the disciple of the Lord”? In other words, to adapt the question that Plato puts to Euthyphro through the mouth of Socrates, “Is it true because it is part of Tradition, or is it part of Tradition because it is true?” If the former, then Bonocore must be willing to accept not only the above (and then he would need to explain *why those particular claims* were not enthusiastically endorsed by the rest of Tradition), but also things such as Tertullian’s affirmation that Mary was not perpetually a virgin (alongside Jerome’s and Origen’s affirmation of the opposite), and these alongside the *fact* that he has no canon whereby to validate or disaffirm *any* claim when it contrasts with another, which would in its turn result in the fact that two mutually exclusive portions of Tradition are both true.

Okay. Several things. First of all, Papias’ recorded saying of Jesus (which he got from “the elders”) may very well be an authentic “agrapha” from the Lord. Need I point out that Papias is also the apparent oral source for John Chapter 8 –the story of the woman caught in adultery, which does not appear in any of the early codices of John, and was apparently added (through Asian oral testimony) sometime in the 300’s. For example, Eusebius writes of Papias and this issue, saying ….

“The same man (Papias) uses proofs from the First Epistle of John, and from the Epistle of Peter in like manner. And he also gives another story of a woman who was accused of many sins before the Lord, which is to be fount in the Gospel according to the Hebrews.”

…But not as yet, in Eusebius’ day (c. 312 A.D.), in the Gospel of John itself. 🙂 Now, why the saying about the vines, etc. was never included in any liturgical medium (e.g. Sacred Scripture), who knows? Perhaps it is because it became associated with the Millenarian error. However, none of this negates the possibility (or likelihood) that it is an aspect of authentic oral Tradition, albeit poorly recorded or applied; and only in a regional (Asian) mode.

Secondly, I hate to correct Mr. Paulson again, but contrary to popular (liberal-modernist / Fundie Protestant) opinion (and even Jurgens falls victim to this too), Tertullian never denied the perpetual virginity of Mary. As with Ireneaus and Jesus’ age, Mr. Paulson apparently misunderstands Tertullian who merely made a comment that Jesus had blood ‘brethren’ (that is, people who were biologically related to Him) to counter the claims of Docetist heretics. This is not a denial of Mary’s perpetual virginity, although that was the “spin” that Helvidius later put on Tertullian’s comment when Helvidius was debating the issue with St. Jerome. And, it is from Helvidius that most modern scholars derive their presumed interpretation of what Tertullian actually said. Yet, his actual statement reads as follows:

“Thus is the temptation about His birth unsuitable, for it might have been contrived without any mention of either His mother or His brethren. It is clearly more credible that, being certain that He had both a mother and brothers, they tested His divinity rather than His nativity, whether, when within, He knew what was without; being tried by the untrue announcement of the presence of persons who were not present.” (On the Flesh of Christ, Chapter 7)

As you can see, Tertullian does not deny Mary’s perpetual virginity, nor does he even address it. He merely makes the comment that, since Jesus had a mother and ‘brethren’ (blood relatives), He could not be a mere ‘phantom.’ What’s more, the overall thrust of Tertullian’s assertion (rooted in what would later be called the “Epiphanian” view of Jesus’ brethren, as reflected in the Protoevagelium of James and elsewhere) maintains that these “brethren” were witnesses to Jesus’ birth (the ‘persons who were present’) thereby making it impossible for them to be the subsequent children of Joseph and Mary, born after Jesus. Rather, these ‘brethren’ are recognized to be family relatives (in this case, of Mary herself), and so of ‘the same flesh’ as Jesus.

As for Mr. Paulson’s assertion that I possess no “canon” by which to affirm or deny any oral claim made against another, that is completely untrue. My “canon” is the universality of a particular Tradition; or, in the case of a regional theolegoumenon that was eventually adopted as official Church doctrine (such as the Immaculate Conception or the Assumption –both of which come to us from the Syrian-speaking branch of the ancient Church, being originally unknown, yet never denied, elsewhere), my canon is the organic sensus fidelium of the Apostolic Deposit, by which the Church’s Magisterium has always, as St. Paul instructs us, ‘tested everything, and retained what is good’ –that is, what agrees organically and theologically with the Apostolic Deposit.

If the latter (i.e., that it is part of Tradition because it is true), then he must explain why Tradition does not itself contain *all* true assertions, and *how anything* can be true that is not itself part of Tradition. Either way, the result is the same: nonsense.

The only “nonsense” here is Mr. Paulson’s faulty approach to the phenomenon of Sacred Tradition itself, which he approaches academically (like a Protestant) vs. organically, as a Catholic would. Tradition does not consist of a static “laundry list” of beliefs left to us by the Apostles …any more that “Jewishness” is limited to any static record which can be re-produced by simply following its instructions. Rather, the primary medium and custodian of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is HIS CHURCH ITSELF –a living Covenant People with a comprehensive, organic understanding of the Apostolic Faith –the “sensus fidelium” that I referred to before. Thus, the Church remembers and recounts its Apostolic Traditions in the same way that any family or ethnic people would; the only difference being that the Church is a super-cultural community that happens to be aided and supported by an infallible Holy Spirit. But, like a regular family or ethnic people, it occasionally encounters contradictions or disagreements as to the nature or expression of its authentic character; and this is worked out by appealing to universal commonality and to pastoral authority …both of which are totally alien to Mr. Holding’s Protestant experience (and thus his over-reliance on academic study).

Thus is my claim justified that Bonocore’s modus operandi, were it rigorously applied, would eventuate in the downfall of Catholicism.

Try again, Mr. Paulson. 🙂 Your faith in the Rock of the Church leaves much to be desired; and this is because you are a victim of the same kind of intellectualism (or pseudo-intellectualism?) that Mr. Holding suffers from.

Were he to realize this, and come to a more sensible judgment, he’d realize not only that historical research *as historical* can offer evidence of its own, and this without presupposing the correctness of Christianity but still able to offer proof with respect to the vindication of certain of its claims, but also, he’d realize that the defense of Tradition itself must be had by recourse to a considerably more complex argument than Bonocore himself is willing to countenance.

You’ve been in college too long, Mr. Paulson. The world is much more simple and practical than “sage” academics like yourself make it out to be. While academia is of course important and has its place, I have very little tolerance for people who make history needlessly complicated and refuse to take a firm stand or adopt an unapologetic perspective of reality because ‘that would be gauche’ and ‘might interfere with intellectual sophistication.’ 🙂 However, when one happens to stand upon a Christ-established Rock, one need not worry about being “embarrassed” by “the truth” offered by the kind of secular dissidents found in the halls of academia these days. Does such a statement sound boastful and arrogant to you, Mr. Paulson? Good. Because I intend it to be. …Because I boast of the “pillar and foundation of Truth” (1 Tim 3:15) that is the Catholic Church. And, I’m sorry to break this to you, but far more clever intellectuals than yourself have tried to depict people holding to my very position as “childish” and “naïve,” and have failed miserably to do so …just as you have failed to do here. So, what else ya got? 🙂

In short, you misunderstand my approach because you fail to appreciate that it is an appeal to AUTHORITY. And, like Mr. Holding, you fail to appreciate this because (despite your claims to the contrary) your approach to Christianity is overly academic in nature and does not extend beyond the intellectual sphere which you are accustom to operating in. So, before you presume to lecture me about broadening my perspective, Mr. Paulson, might I respectfully suggest that you learn to broaden your own and deal with the fact that you’re mischaracterizing both my arguments and my intellectual capacity based on a faulty premise. The question of the authorship of Matthew is NOT a historical question or a matter of empirical evidence alone. Rather, it is a matter of authority and whom it is who may speak with that authority. Anyone who fails to see this is simply either deluded or naïve. Since you claim that your allegiance to Tradition extends beyond the historical sciences, I would hope that you are better than that, and so will “disengage your perilous youth from the nets” of Mr. Holding.

Mark Bonocore
The Catholic Legate
November 24, 2004

James White And His Many Contradictions

Well, if you feel that I am misrepresenting your doctrine, Mr. White, will you at least do me the favor of showing me the flaw in my reasoning in regard to your position? As I understand it, you maintain that:

(a) The Bible is a source of objective information which any sincere, unbiased, intelligent Christian believer can read and understand.

(b) The Bible objectively teaches the Evangelical (Reformed Baptist) Christian faith.

(c) The Evangelical (Reformed Baptist) Christian faith is Christian orthodoxy.

Do I understand you correctly so far, Mr. White? Well, if so, I believe that you also maintain that:

(d) “Sola Scriptura is a fundamental truth” — the rule of faith for Christian orthodoxy (i.e. Reformed Baptist Evangelicalism).

(e) This is because the Bible alone is all that the Apostles left to us; and thus the Bible contains (in written form) the sum total of orthodox Christian doctrine (i.e. the doctrines of Reformed Baptist Evangelicalism).

(f) A true, sincere, Sola Scriptura reading of the Bible will objectively and invariably present the Evangelical (Reformed Baptist) Christian faith to the reader.

(g) Some early Christians, such as the Church Father St. Athanasius, subscribed to Sola Scriptura.

So, do you agree with all the statements above, Mr. White? Have I misrepresented your position in regard to any of them? Well, if not, can you please explain, for starters, what went wrong with St. Athanasius? 🙂 You do claim that he subscribed to Sola Scriptura, right? Well, was St. Athanasius a Reformed Baptist Evangelical? Are you able to recognize him as one?

We both know that such a thing is impossible because Athanasius clearly taught things that are alien to Reformed Baptist Evangelicalism, such as the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, Mary’s perpetual virginity, infant Baptism, and the like.

So, what went wrong? Clearly, if you still hold that Athanasius subscribed to Sola Scriptura, you must also maintain that he was not very good at it. 😉 However, upon what would you objectively base that assumption? If you claim to subscribe to Sola Scriptura, and (as you say) St. Athanasius also subscribed to Sola Scriptura, what makes your interpretation of the Bible any better than his? What is your objective standard for deciding whose interpretation is correct?

Would you say that St. Athanasius was not an orthodox Christian? Remember, we are talking about the lone voice against the Arian heresy in the 4th Century Eastern Church (indeed, “throughout the whole Church,” according to your colleague, Robert Zins). So, was Athanasius orthodox or not? After all, according to your position, he did hold to the rule of faith of “orthodox Christianity” (Sola Scriptura). Yet, even so, he did not arrive at Reformed Baptist Evangelicalism. Why not?

Do you think that St. Athanasius was not sincere? Do you think he wasn’t intelligent? Do you think he was not committed to Christ?

Clearly, if you hold that St. Athanasius subscribed to Sola Scriptura as the rule of faith, yet did not arrive at the same interpretation of the Bible as you, you must then conclude that he made some error along the way. Yet, Mr. White, assuming that St. Athanasius did fall short in this regard, how can you be sure that you’re not prone to error as well? 🙂 If a sincere, intelligent, saintly man like St. Athanasius could “misinterpret the Bible’s objective message” (even when he was a native speaker of Biblical Greek!), how do you know you’re not doing it as well? How do you know that your interpretation of the Bible is any more orthodox than Athanasius’ ? How do you objectively know that the Reformed Baptist Evangelical interpretation of Scripture is objectively correct???

That is to say, how do you know that it’s any better than St. Athanasius’, OR Martin Luther’s (who also taught the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, Mary’s perpetual virginity, and infant Baptism …just like St. Athanasius. 😉

So, if Athanasius (supposedly) subscribed to Sola Scriptura, and if Martin Luther also subscribed to Sola Scriptura; and if they agree on these doctrines, while you oppose them, how do you objectively know that your position is correct? How do you know that “the Eucharist is symbolic,” that “Mary had other children,” and that “Baptism is merely an outward sign” when (a) the Scriptures never directly define these issues, and (b) the verses which indirectly refer to them can be interpreted differently by Sola Scriptura-style readers? Therefore, how can you objectively claim to be orthodox? How do you know that the Bible objectively teaches the Reformed Baptist Evangelical faith?

There’s only one way, Mr. White. You need to show that your interpretation of the Bible is consistent and repeatable throughout history. You need to show Christians in the early Church who you would clearly identify as “orthodox” (i.e. Reformed Baptist Evangelicals).


(a) If the Bible is an objective source of information, and …

(b) If it objectively teaches the Reformed Baptist Evangelical Christian faith, then …

(c) The Reformed Baptist Evangelical faith should be the consistent result from any Sola Scriptura reading of the Bible.

Therefore, let’s assume that St. Athanasius and Martin Luther are “historical flukes.” 🙂 Let’s say that, for whatever reason, they failed to be faithful to Sola Scriptura. In that case, it still follows that …

(a) If the Bible presents us with an objective body of doctrine, and …

(b) If that objective body of doctrine can be read and correctly understood by anyone who adheres to the principle of Sola Scriptura, and …

(c) If orthdox Christians throughout history have always rejected the “man-made traditions” of Catholicism and “remained faithful” to the Apostlic faith as it is “contained solely in the pages of Scripture,” then ….

It necessarily follows, Mr. White, that you must be able to point to an ancient “orthodox Christian.” …That is to say, someone who achieved the same result from reading the Bible as you (i.e. the Reformed Baptist Evangelical faith).

Otherwise, you have no objective standard for showing that your interpretation of Scripture is correct. Now, once again, how is my reasoning flawed? 🙂

If “X” = Reformed Baptist Evangelicalism, ….

And if you say that the Bible objectively teaches “X,” …

And if the Bible does indeed objectively teach “X,” ….

Then we must have numerous examples of ancient “orthodox Christians” saying that the Bible teaches “X” too.

Where is the flaw in that, Mr. White? 🙂

Yet, if we lack even a single example of an ancient Christian claiming that the Bible teaches “X” (i.e., Reformed Baptist Evangelicalism), then …

(1) Either the Bible was not properly understood until you Reformed Baptists came along, or …

(2) The Bible doesn’t teach “X” at all. 😉

So, if (2) is correct, your position is undone; and if (1) is correct, then Sola Scriptura is still disproven as a practical principle, since centuries of committed, Sola Scriptura Christians had the Bible in their possession but failed to read it correctly.

So, you only have one choice, Mr. White. If Sola Scriptura is true; and if your interpretation of the Bible is the objective message presented by the written text, then you must point to an ancient Christian who is unquestionably “orthodox” in your eyes (i.e., one who would be your co-religious today).

Now, I seriously doubt that you would have difficulty identifying such a person in the 17th or 18th century. I’m sure you could find an “orthodox Christian” from that time most easily. And the same goes for today. I doubt anyone would seriously dispute that Jason Engwer is (even remotely) your co-religious. So, what about your co-religious in the ancient Church, Mr. White? Where are they? Using the same standards as those cited above, can you name an “orthodox Christian” from ancient times or not? And, if not, why not? 🙂 Didn’t they possess the Bible? Didn’t some of them (according to your view) adhere to Sola Scriptura and despise the “human traditions” of Rome? 🙂

Well, if so, where are they? Where were they when St. Athanasius supposedly stood alone in defending the Deity of Christ? 🙂 Where were they when Pope Innocent tried to include the “Apocrypha” in the Bible? Where were they when the Council of Ephesus proclaimed Mary to be the “Mother of God,” or when St. Athanasius was teaching the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the perpetual virginity of Mary, and the Baptism of infants? Did “orthodox Christians” have nothing to say??? 🙂

Ah! But, my dear Mr. White, doesn’t the Bible say “By their fruits you shall know them”? So, where are the “fruits” of these ancient “orthodox Christians” ?

And, if the “remnant” of orthodox Christians which you and your associates are always talking about said nothing against these “abuses,” then they couldn’t have been very “orthodox” themselves, could they? 🙂 Where was their Elijah? Where was their Jeremiah? Did God raise up no one to speak out against the “wholesale apostasy” that Catholicism supposedly is? And so, does that mean that God cared more for the Israelites than He does for His own Church?! 🙂

Again, Mr. White, if Athanasius, who supposedly stood alone against Arianism, and who (you say) subscribed to Sola Scriptura, was not part of the “orthodox remnant,” then who, in God’s Holy Name, was??? 🙂

Again, if Evangelicals like yourself are going to claim that we Catholics read the Bible incorrectly, then you must be able to show that your interpretation is objectively correct and objectively repeatable.

So, for the 6th time, James, I’m giving you a chance to prove that your principle of Sola Scriptura works. Name an ancient “Bible Christian” like yourself. Name a Church Father who read the Bible correctly (like you).

If the Apostles left the Church with a static, written record as the rule of orthodoxy, and if that written record is objectively understandable, and if your interpretation represents the correct understanding of that objective record, then we must have ancient, yet full-developed, Evangelicals among the Church Fathers. At least among those who, you say, subscribed to Sola Scriptura. So, can you please name one.

That’s my reasoning, James. I am more than ready to respectfully consider yours.


by Mark J. Bonocore

James White teaches:

(1) “The Reformed Baptist Christian faith is Christian orthodoxy.”

(2) “The Bible objectively teaches the Reformed Baptist Christian faith.”

(3) “Sola Scriptura (‘Bible alone’) is a fundamental truth of orthodox Christianity.”

(4) “If one reads the Bible, employing the fundamental truth of ‘Bible alone,’ one will arrive at its objective teaching: the Reformed Baptist Christian faith.”

Would Mr. White dispute any of the statements above? Certainly not. So, let us proceed with his teaching.

Mr. White also holds that:

(5) “The Bible, in the form of the present Protestant canon, has always been in the possession of orthodox Christians.”

(6) “The Apostles entrusted this Bible to their earliest followers with the result that it would become the sum total of orthodox Christian doctrine: that of the Reformed Baptist Christian faith.”

(7) “Some early Christians (e.g. St. Athanasius) subscribed to Sola Scriptura (‘Bible alone’).”

So, if all these things are true, why wasn’t St. Athanasius an “orthodox (i.e. Reformed Baptist) Christian”?

Did he possess the Bible in its present Protestant canon? Yes, according to Mr. White, he did.

Did he subscribe to the fundamental truth of Sola Scriptura? Once again, according to Mr. White, the answer is yes.

So, if he had the Bible, and if he used Sola Scriptura, why didn’t St. Athanasius arrive at the Reformed Baptist Christian faith? What did Athanasius lack that James White does not???? He must have lacked something. Or, perhaps, he did not truly subscribe to Sola Scriptura.

Okay, let’s say that St. Athanasius is a flawed example. Let’s say that he failed to employ Sola Scriptura correctly. Well, if that’s the case, ….

(a) James White still teaches that “Sola Scriptura is a fundamental truth for orthodox Christianity.”

(b) He also maintains that “the Bible (i.e., the present Protestant canon) was always in the possession of orthodox Christians from the time of the Apostles onward.”

(c) He also holds that “the Bible objectively teaches the Reformed Baptist Christian faith.”

Thus, if (a), (b), and (c) are correct, then we should have many, many examples of ancient Christians whose beliefs are identical to those of modern, Reformed Baptists like James White.

So, why don’t we see this? If there were ancient Christians who (a) subscribed to Sola Scriptura, (b) always possessed the Bible as we have it today, and (c) objectively arrived at the Reformed Baptist faith from reading the Bible, why doesn’t history have a record of any of them?

Indeed, of the thousands of Church Fathers who James White has read, how can it be that not one of them mirrors his own, Reformed Baptist Christian faith? …That is to say, how is it possible that, out of thousands of Church fathers, James White has never come across one who is “orthodox”? …One who managed to arrive at what he says the Bible objectively teaches.

Was Clement of Rome orthodox? Not according to James White. Was Polycarp? Again, not by White’s standards. Was Ignatius of Antioch? No. Was Irenaeus of Lyon? No. Was Justin Martyr? No. Was Clement of Alexandria? No. Was Tertullian? No. Was Hippolytus of Rome? No. Was Origen? No. Was Cyprian? No.Was Stephen of Rome? Was Dionysius of Alexandria? No. Was Eusebius of Caesarea? No. Was Anthony of Egypt? No. Was Ephraem the Syrian? No. Was Aphraates the Persian? No. Was Athanasius? No. Was Cyril of Jerusalem? No. Was Gregory Nazianzus? No. Was Basil the Great? No. Was Gregory of Nyssa? No. Was Ambrose of Milan? No. Was Jerome? No. Was John Chrysostom? No. Was Augustine of Hippo? No. Was Hilary of Poitiers? No. Was Cyril of Alexandria? No. Was Germanus of Auxerre? No. Was Patrick of Ireland? No. Was Leo the Great? No. Was Benedict of Nursia? No. Was Columba of Iona? No. Was Gregory the Great? No. Was Augustine of Canterbury? No.Was Isidore of Serville? No. Was Cuthbert of Northumbria? No. Was John Damascene? No. Was Boniface of Germany? No. Was Bede the Venerable? No. Were Cyril and Methodius? No.

And the list could go on and on.

So, what’s the problem here? If the Reformed Baptist faith is Christian orthodoxy, and if the Bible which objectively teaches the Reformed Baptist faith was always in the possession of Christians, how is it possible that no ancient Christian arrived at orthodoxy??? It’s not. 🙂 It’s totally impossible. …Unless James White wishes to claim that he possesses some unique, spiritual gift which all these other men of God were lacking.

So, until Mr. White deigns to produce an ancient Christian who mirrors his own Reformed Baptist faith, he must concede both that his interpretation of Scripture is objectively unreliable and that his fundamental principle of Sola Scriptura is impractical and unable to demonstate itself over the course of recorded history, thus proving itself to be an untrustworthy and false doctrine.

And, if Mr. White has a problem with my analysis of his position, I challenge him again (for the 10th time) to show me where there’s a flaw in my reasoning.

To recap: X = The Bible — Y = The Reformed Baptist faith — S = Sola Scriptura

If we have always possessed X in it’s present form, and if X objectively teaches Y, and if S is all one requires to conclude that X teaches Y, then Y should be a repeatable and objectively-demonstrable phenomenon.

So, what am I overlooking, Mr. White? 🙂

Sic transit gloria mundi. Gloria tibi, Domine.

Mark Boncore
The Catholic Legate
November 24, 2004

Sola, Solo: Sounding Intellectual Really Isn’t Enough

The ancient Greeks had a saying: “Megon biblion, megon kakon,” which is literally translated as “Big book, big evil.” The meaning, of course, is that too much intellectualism is a very misguided and dangerous thing. No where is this more clearly illustrated than in a relatively recent online article by someone named James Patrick Holding, in which he takes a few pot shots at Mark’s article, “Is Sola Scriptura Reasonable“. Mr. Holding’s comments are in blue.

Now, before addressing each of Mr. Holding’s oh-so-silly points, let me first mention the fact that the article (by me) which he seeks to refute was written for the benefit of Fundamentalist Protestant Christians who, despite what “intellectuals” like Mr. Holding would like to believe, do take the false, man-made doctrine of “Sola Scriptura” (“Bible alone”) very literally, as if it is something intrinsic to orthodox Christianity, which it of course is not. In this, the Fundamentalists are at least a lot more honest (if still mistaken) in their views compared to their “intellectual” cousins, represented by the likes of Mr. Holding, who try (totally unsuccessfully) to either pretend that “Sola Scriptura” doesn’t really mean what its name clearly implies or to rationalize away the unavoidable conclusions of any honest analysis of the “Sola Scriptura” doctrine –namely, that it has no objective basis in either history, tradition, or practicality, and that it reduces Christianity to a totally subjective and relativistic “faith” (based solely on one’s personal interpretation of the Scriptural text). What’s more, as I pointed out in my article, the very Scriptures themselves (e.g. the Gospel of Matthew) are only known to be authoritative and inspired via, not the false, man-made doctrine of “Sola Scriptura,” but the authoritative and binding Apostolic oral Traditions of the Catholics Church (e.g. 2 Thess. 2:15). For, as even that great “intellectual” Martin Luther once said, …

“We are obliged to yield many things to the [Roman] Catholics –[for example] that they possess the Word of God, which we received from them, otherwise we should have known nothing about it” (Martin Luther, Comm in John 16).

Mr. Holding, however, displays no appreciation for this unavoidable historical fact. Rather, he writes things like …

Though the inspiration for this article comes from an essay by a Catholic apologist named Mark Bonocore, some of the principles involved reach into exchanges I have had with certain persons of late involving the question of Sola Scriptura. Not long ago I wrote an item here on what I called Sola Scriptura Extremis — a behavior that leads us to ignore Biblical contextual material with at worst an arbitrary and angry dismissal of the material simply because it is “not in the Bible.” My example then was the Wisdom Christology based on pre-NT Jewish documents; of late, it has also been the Semitic Totality concept, rejected by one letter-writer because he could not find it mentioned in the Bible. Bonocore’s commentary has the mold of an extreme in the other direction. What we have now is an argument that takes not too little, but too much, and uses false analogies to validate the process.

Oh, on the contrary, Mr. Holding. If you wish to subscribe to the dynamic of ‘Semitic totality’ (a very Catholic concept indeed), then you have no basis for rejecting the fact that the oral tradition of Faith was always, by Semites (like the Apostles), understood to be equally authoritative and binding with written material (i.e., inspired Scripture). This is why, needless to say, even modern Jews still accept the binding authority of both the Torah and the Mishna, which is the Mosaic oral Tradition that accompanies the Torah. Catholics live by both Scripture and Tradition just as our Jewish ancestors did –just as Jesus Himself and the Apostles did (e.g. 2 Thess. 2:15, 1 Cor. 11:2, etc.). So, why have you Protestants departed from this natural condition of ‘Semitic totality’? Mr. Holding goes on …

In what follows Bonocore will go on to claim that what we believe about Matthew with respect to the above comes to us via the Church Father Irenaeus (c. 180 AD), and argue, hey, if you accept Irenaeus on this subject, why not believe him when he speaks of Mary assisting in our salvation, or of a Real Presence in the Eucharist? ….suffice to say instead that Bonocore unloads a crate of oranges which he believes are apples. What is wrong with this picture? Manifestly, there is a technical problem: What about Papias? He was actually the first to testify about Matthew.

Yes, Mr. Holding, what about Saint Papias? For, he was from the very same Asian Christian tradition that produced Saint Irenaeus and Saint Polycarp —all of whom are saints of the Catholic Church; all of whom subscribed to the same Johanine Apostolic oral Traditions. And, indeed, Papias himself, like Irenaeus, is on record defending these Apostolic oral Traditions. He writes …

“But I shall not be unwilling to put down, along with my interpretations, whatsoever instructions I received with care at any time from the presbyters, and stored up with care in my memory, assuring you at the same time of their truth. For I did not, like the multitude, take pleasure in those who spoke much, but in those who taught the truth; nor in those who related strange commandments, but in those who rehearsed the commandments given by the Lord to faith, and proceeding from truth itself. If, then, any one who had attended on the presbyters came, I asked minutely after their sayings –what Andrew or Peter said, or what was said by Philip, or by Thomas, or by James, or by John, or by Matthew, or by any other of the Lord’s disciples: which things Aristion and the presbyter John, the disciples of the Lord, say. For I imagined that what was to be got from books was not so profitable to me as what came from the living and abiding voice.” (Papias in Eusebius, H.E.).

So, needless to say, Mr. Holding, Saint Irenaeus and Saint Papias are of “one mind” (1 Cor. 1:10) in this matter, and you may simply not pit them against each other as you would like to. But, Mr. Holding goes on …

More of relevance, what of simple comparison to other classical works and their attestation? The Gospels are all far and away in better shape in terms of external attestation than any other document from the ancient world.

Really? Well, that should come as a surprise to many classicists out there who take great pleasure in works like Plutarch’s “Lives,” or Caesar’s “The Gallic Wars,” or the “Dialogues” of Plato, or a great many other ancient works, of unquestionable integrity, which date from long before the Gospels were written. Clearly, Mr. Holding’s assertion above is a ridiculous and indefensible one; and not only because it is abundantly incorrect, but because it does nothing to prove his point. Even if the Gospel of Matthew is well-attested to (by ancient Catholic Christians, I might add), this doesn’t mean that (for someone who rejects the binding authority of Catholic oral Tradition) that these witnesses got it right or were telling the truth. Indeed, as Mr. Holding points out, Saint Papias is the earliest person on record referring to a Gospel of Matthew. However, Papias wrote in about the year A.D. 130 —a good 50 to 60 years (taking the most conservative estimates) after Matthew is said to have penned his Gospel. So, unlike those who witnessed the publication of something like Caesar’s “Gallic Wars,” Papias was not a first-hand witness. Ergo, how do we know his information is reliable? Why should we trust his story at all? Also, what Papias specifically says is very important here. He writes …

“Matthew put together the oracles [of the Lord] in the Hebrew language, and each one interpreted them as best he could.” (Ibid).

And this is all that Papias has to say about the subject of Matthew’s Gospel. So, given this fact, how do we know that Papias is speaking about the Gospel of Matthew as we have it today? After all, Papias only mentions the “oracles of the Lord,” and “oracles,” while the word can have a few meanings, most typically refers to “sayings” — that is, the statements or teachings of Jesus, not what He did or how He died and rose again (as recounted in the existing Gospel narrative). Also, Papias asserts that Matthew wrote these “oracles” down in “Hebrew” (he most likely means “Aramaic” — “the language of the Hebrews”), and then refers to people “interpreting” them ‘as best they could.’ Ah!

So, since our Gospel of Matthew is a Greek document, and not a Hebrew or Aramaic one, does this mean that we merely have an “interpretation” of what the inspired Apostle Matthew really wrote? Does this mean that there may be things in our Greek version of Matthew that are incorrect or spurious? After all, if each person merely interpreted Matthew’s original writings “as best he could,” how do we know that these “translators” didn’t mess things up or add material from their own imaginations? How do we know that what we have is reliable, authentic, and, yes, inspired? And the same goes for all the other New Testament Scriptures. This, of course, is an unavoidable problem for any Christian believer who unwisely discards the binding authority of the Apostolic oral Traditions of the Catholic Church.

What’s more, Mr. Holding above refers to wide-spread “external attestation” to the origin and reliability of Matthew’s Gospel. Well, aside from Papias and Irenaeus, Mr. Holding would certainly be hard pressed to find anyone attesting to the origin or reliability of Matthew’s Gospel before the mid 3rd Century (i.e., Saint Clement of Alexandria being the earliest to mention the subject after Papias and Irenaeus). Now, of course, a great many people attest to Matthew’s integrity after this time. But, I defy Mr. Holding, from Papias’ earliest reference on, to produce one ancient witness to the reliability of Matthew’s Gospel who does not also subscribe to a belief in the binding authority of Apostolic oral Tradition and/or who does not hold to the present oral Traditions of the Catholic Church. Ergo, the point of my originally article stands: Those who tell us about the origin, reliability, and inspiration of Matthew’s Gospel also subscribed to the oral Traditions of Catholic Christianity, and so one has no basis for believing that Matthew’s Gospel is written by Matthew (or is inspired) unless one accepts the other oral Traditions of Catholic Christianity.

Yet, Mr. Holding goes on …

What about internal evidence? I must inform Bonocore that Irey [sic] was far from the only mouth to my ear on this subject.

Needless to say, nothing in the Gospel of Matthew itself tells us that it was authored by the Apostle Matthew or inspired by God. Christians who believe this believe it based on the oral Tradition of the Catholic Church. You simply cannot avoid this fact, Mr. Holding. But, Mr. Holding also writes …

How do I know it is inspired? Practically speaking, I don’t know the way I know my dog is now lying beside me. I can only test it for veracity, and if it is true, it is certainly a candidate to be considered inspired; and if it is true indeed, then whether it is inspired or not makes little practical difference.

As any genuine believer in Christ knows, all of this is pseudo-intellectual poppycock. Here, Mr. Holding reduces the objective reality of the Christian Faith to a purely subjective (and thus relativistic) exercise in personal discernment. Indeed, those who hold the Koran to be the inspired Word of God can offer exactly the same argument. This does not excuse the a-historical nonsense presented in the Koran, however. Nor does it establish a reliable origin or inspired nature for the Gospel of Matthew.

Indeed, Mr. Holding refers to personally “testing” the “veracity” of the Gospel of Matthew. Yet, he never tells us what these “tests” are based on — what his objective standard for determining the reliability and inspiration of the Gospel of Matthew is. I, however, have no problem presenting my own objective standard for believing (with full personal certitude) that the Gospel of Matthew was written by the Apostle Matthew and inspired by Almighty God. And my objective standard for this is the binding, Spirit-guided oral Tradition of the Catholic Church which, per Christ’s promise, in verses like John 14:16-17, 16:13, and Matt 16:18-19, cannot err in such dogmatic matters. Now, as a Protestant, Mr. Holding of course does not agree with me on this. Yet, what is he able to offer as a substitute? Does he have another objective standard?

Or, like all Protestants, is his standard merely a personal, and thus purely subjective, one? Well, if so, then is Mr. Holding claiming personal infallibility on par with the claimed, Spirit-guided infallibly of the Catholic Church? If not, then is he saying that he could very well be wrong about the origin and inspiration of the Gospel of Matthew, as well as that of all the other NT Scriptures — that their origin and inspiration can be validly disputed? If so, then Mr. Holding reveals himself as the relativist that I think he is. And a Christian (a follower of Truth Personified) cannot be a relativist. Mr. Holding goes on to say ….

The word of a person, even the author, is as intelligent Skeptics have pointed out, a circular reasoning exercise. Which leads to a certain flaw in Bonocore’s method: testimony that “X authored document Y” is not in the same category-conception as, “the Eucharist contains a Real Presence of Christ”. The former is tangible. The latter is theoretical and philosophical.

My, my. If Mr. Holding ever wishes to give up his pursuit of “Protestant” apologetics, he certainly has a career as a John Kerry speech writer. For, the statement above is about as twisted and incoherent as a Kerry statement on foreign policy. And while Mr. Holding obviously thinks that his assertion above makes him sound “smart,” if you bother to sift through the pseudo-intellectual babble, the argument of the Skeptics which he cites to support his own position actually argues for my own! For, it is Mr. Holding who is arguing for internal evidence from the Gospel of Matthew to support the reliability and authenticity of the Gospel of Matthew. I, on the other hand, have consistently made the claim, and even proved, that one has no basis for believing in the origin, reliability or inspiration of Matthew’s Gospel independently of the binding and authoritative Traditional witness of the Catholic Church. So, who is Mr. Holding arguing against? Is it me or himself? He also writes …

In the end Bonocore finds himself saying, we believe Matthew is inspired and so on, “because you trust the Church’s Sacred oral Tradition on this matter.” Yet who has claimed that the tradition is inerrant?

Uh, … The Catholic Church. And so does Sacred Scripture itself:

  • 2 Thess. 2:15: “Stand firm and hold fast to the Traditions you were taught, whether by an ORAL STATEMENT or by a letter from us.”
  • Phil 4:9: “Keep on doing what you have learned and received and HEARD and SEEN IN ME. Then the God of peace will be with you.”
  • 1 Cor. 11:2: “I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold fast to the Traditions, just as I handed them on to you.”
  • 2 Thess. 3:6: “We instruct you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to shun any brother who conducts himself in a disorderly way and not according to the TRADITION they received from us.”
  • 1 Peter 1:25: “…but the Word of the Lord REMAINS FOREVER. This is the Word that has been PROCLAIMED TO YOU (i.e., orally).”

Indeed, Mr. Holding, where does Scripture, or any Christian before the 16th Century Reformation, ever claim that Apostolic Tradition is not inerrant?

Who clustered our obligations so?

Again, the Catholic Church.

As one of our Catholic readers comments, as he sees it, Bonocore’s method is “a sort of Catholic fundamentalism”, one which “could be used to burn us Catholics too.”

Well, I fail to see how any faithful Catholic could be so “burned” by adhering to the Catholic dogmatic belief in Sacred oral Tradition. Obviously, this so-called “Catholic reader” of yours is no such thing, but can only be a liberal-modernist dissident who wishes to imitate your own Protestant errors. Very sad. As for his suggestion that I am a “Catholic fundamentalist,” one wonders if this person would also classify the Popes and the fathers of our Ecumenical Councils as “fundamentalists” as well, since they too all uphold the dogma of Sacred oral Tradition (see the Council of Trent, Vatican I, Vatican II, etc.). Ergo, this person is clearly not a Catholic in any realistic sense of the word, but just another “intellectual” relativist like Mr. Holding himself.

Mr. Holding also writes …

I am often asked if I believe in inerrancy: I do, but I do not use it as a presupposition when I operate. I simply focus on whether the Word is true, and argue from that corner, so that the results are the same.

I don’t think that I even need to dignify this irrational silliness with a response. Needless to say, Mr. Holding has no way of knowing whether or not the Word is “true” unless he begins with a pre-existing premise of inspired inerrancy, which in turn must be based on some external objective standard. Again, he clearly displays himself as a relativist with a purely subjective sense of “Christianity.” Arch-heretics are born from such as these. As I said above, any Muslim can say the same about the Koran.

But, he goes on ….

The obvious reason for this is that in an argumentational context, one could easily be accused of assuming inerrancy to prove inerrancy (a charge that has indeed been falsely leveled by certain nuisance Skeptics). Bonocore, regrettably, could easily fall on the same account.

“Bonocore” has not merely fallen into this account, but willingly embraces it! Yes, the inerrant nature of the Catholic Church proves the inerrancy of inspired Scripture. In fact, that is the one and only thing which objectively proves that Scripture is inspired and inerrant –that is, accepting the Christ-founded, Spirit-guided Catholic Church as one’s objective standard of Truth (per 1 Tim 3:15). Otherwise, one has no valid reason for being a Christian at all, since one’s ultimate knowledge of Christ depends totally on the reliability and credibility of Catholic Christianity —that is, those who founded the Catholic Church and who were witnesses to the Resurrection. All of Christian belief comes from this, as do the Scriptures themselves which is, of course, the very point of my original article. If one is not willing to accept the oral witness of the Catholic Church, which is believed to be Spirit-guided and infallible, then one has no reason to accept the reliability or inerrancy of the NT Scriptures, or to accept Christianity at all — unless one wishes to cook up some “progressive,” purely-subjective “intellectual” rationalizations, which of course are no better or more rooted in reality than the choice to believe in Islam, or Mormonism, or the like. And Mr. Holding goes on …

As I indicated in my other article linked above, Sola Scriptura cannot be believed in a vacuum. “Sola” does not give us leave to ignore or bypass contextual elements that give the text meaning.

Then it’s not “Sola Scriptura,” then, is it? The so-called “contextual elements” that you refer to (if they are authentic) reside in the history and oral traditons of ancient (Catholic) Christianity; ergo, scriptura et traditio est, non est sola scriptura. Mr. Holding also says ….

The natural result of such illogic is King James Onlyism, if we are consistent, since this would mean we cannot even use lexicons or concordances to understand the text better.

And how do you know that such “academic” measures will lead you to a reliable or comprehensive understanding of the Sacred text? As Catholic scholar Dr. Art Sippo once pointed out, ‘Protestantism replaced Liturgical heritage with academia.’ It assumes that the Christian Faith is a mere academic exercise rather than a Liturgical mystery handed down through Covenantal heritage, as was the Old Covenant before it. Indeed, just as one does not become a Jew through study alone, one does not become an orthodox Christian without participating in the living Covenantal Tradition of the Church that always was, from the time of the Apostles. This is the underlying error of Mr. Holding’s position. And he has the nerve to speak of “Semitic totality,” eh? But, Mr. Holding continues …

Theoretically, sacred tradition could offer such a context and could provide an authoritative understanding, the same way a lexicon could —

Again, Mr. Holding’s very unwise preoccupation with academia is obvious here. Sacred Tradition is more than a mere “lexicon.” Rather, it is, as Thomas Aquinas described it, a “sensus fidelium” –a “sense of the faith.” Just as an Italian possesses a comprehensive knowledge of what it is to be Italian, and just as an Irishman possesses a comprehensive knowledge of what it is to be an Irishman, and just as a Jew possesses a comprehensive knowledge of what it is to be Jew, so a Catholic, who lives his or her Catholic Faith, possesses a comprehensive knowledge of the Apostolic Faith –something which is arrived at through living experience and participation (i.e., “Traditio”), not through merely reading or studying a book. For, no Italian, or Irishman, or Jew needs to study a book to discern, appreciate, or intimately know his or her cultural heritage, nor can any mere intellectual gain a comprehensive or integrated knowledge of Italian, or Irish, or Jewish culture from simply studying these cultures from afar. Rather, what is necessary is intimate participation in the cultures themselves before one can say that they truly know what it is to be Italian, or Irish, or Jewish, etc. And it’s the same with Catholic Christianity, which was established to be a Covenant people of God –the new Chosen People (see: 1 Peter 2:9-10), all sharing in one body of Sacred Apostolic Tradition. This, more than any other reason, is why Protestants read the Scriptures incorrectly and why they disagree among themselves on fundamental doctrines which are supposedly “self-evident” from the Scriptures. At present, we have over 30,000 separate Protestant denominations — all with the same Bible, but all intepretating it differently. Clearly, someone is doing something wrong. But, on the issue of Tradition, Mr. Holding continues …

whether it [Sacred Tradition] deserves a pre-eminent place in reaching an understanding, as Bonocore seems to intimate, cannot be decided by a personal referendum on the subject any more than an intelligent belief in inerrancy can be arrived at by the same means.

Sure it can, Mr. Holding. However, you are correct insofar that it is not a personal referendum which has established the objective truth of the preeminence of Sacred Tradition. Rather, it is the Christ-established, Spirit-guided authority of the Catholic Church which has done this. If you do not accept that authority, then feel free not to do so. But, don’t pretend that you have a valid or historical reason for doing so, because you do not. And Mr. Holding concludes …

Either one is circular reasoning, and while that will make some people quite delighted and give them contented laurels to rest on, those who take the matter too far with end up, as we stated before, as fundamentalist atheists or Wayne Harringtons at worst, or filled with cognitive dissonance which makes you an ineffective and unbelievable witness at best.

Well, as I said, Mr. Holding, we Catholics have an objective standard for our belief in the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture, where, as you pretty much admitted in your article, you obviously do not. So, while you may irrationally and unreasonably accuse us of resting on “laurels” as you say, the truth is that our Christian Faith rests upon the authority of a Christ-established Rock (Matt 16:18). Yours, however, rests upon, well, what exactly would that be?

Pax et bonum

Mark Bonocore
The Catholic Legate
October 16, 2004

The Incoherency of Sola Scriptura

In this 1999 dialogue between Evangelical, Jason Engwer, and Legateer, Mark Bonocore, read how Mark enlightens Jason on his biblical and patristic presumptions. Mark correctly points out the static and unhistorical nature of sola scriptura. Engwer’s comments are in red.

In response to my challenge to James White (posted on Steve Ray’s message boards), Jason Engwer (who I demolished on this subject last summer) takes it upon himself to write (in part) :

Mark Bonocore has issued a challenge to James White that he’s also issued to me and to other evangelicals. He asks us to name an “ancient Christian” who we consider orthodox. We can easily say “Paul”, “Clement of Rome”, or “Mathetes”, but Mark will object to that. He’ll claim, for example, that since people interpret Paul in different ways, we must therefore document that some POST-apostolic person interpreted Paul the same way we do. Of course, people ALSO disagree about how to interpret the writings of those post-apostolic men. So, since people disagree over what the church fathers taught, do we have to appeal to some even LATER source to interpret the church fathers for us? Isn’t it absurd to keep appealing to some other source to interpret the apostles’ writings for us when we can just read the documents ourselves? Unless, perhaps, Catholics just don’t like what the apostolic documents say?

To this hopeless diversion, James White responded:

Amen and amen. 🙂 All I ask is that Jason post that to the BBS upon which Mr. Bonocore likewise placed his “challenge.” Thank you, Jason.

So, does this mean you refuse to answer my question, Mr. White? I find your condescending tone most amusing, yet it does not change the fact that I’ve asked a question you cannot answer. Like the good relativist that he is, Mr. Engwer has proven my point above …Just as he did in our exchange on this topic last summer, where Mr. Engwer wrote:

There is no “consistent result of reading the Bible” in the sense you’re suggesting

To this, I responded:

🙂 I see. Therefore, the Bible is all relative. Therefore, there is no one interpretation that’s correct. Therefore, we can never know the full truth of what God intended to communicate to us. Therefore, Sola Scriptura (“Bible alone”) CANNOT be a method for determining Christian orthodoxy. Therefore, we only have our OWN OPINIONS of what the Bible teaches, reducing Christianity to a pluralistic, intellectual exercise, as opposed to a unified, orthodox faith. I REALLY hope your fellow Evangelicals read this, Jason. 🙂 …Because what you’re teaching is not Christianity, and any Evangelical worth his salt will tell you that. You are saying that the Bible is unreliable …that it does not contain a specific and comprehensive message from God. …That it is not the Sacred Book of a particular Faith, but merely an interesting “toy” for intellectuals to play with. Now we see Jason’s “true religion” coming to the fore. 🙂

Jason Engwer went on to say:

That’s why there are so many disagreements in the world about what the Bible actually teaches.

And I responded:

I see. 🙂 So, what you’re saying is that we can never really know …OR that only you can know, since you’re so much smarter than the rest of us. 🙂 Tell me, Jason. Do you really believe in a God Who would make such an incredible miscalculation???? …A God Who would establish a Covenant with all mankind through His Son’s precious Blood, and then put mankind in a situation where they could never agree as to what this God really requires of them????? 🙂 What happened to “Father, I pray that they may be one, even as You and I are One”??? What happened to Isaiah 55:11, which reads: ‘So shall my Word be that goes forth from my mouth; It shall not return to me void, but shall ACCOMPLISH MY WILL, ACHIEVING THE GOAL for which I sent it.’ So, does the Bible present us with a comprehensive message or not? And, if it does, can we know it or not? 🙂 Yet, you are clearly saying that we CANNOT know it. …At least not objectively and collectively. Therefore, if we cannot all share an objective knowledge of what God desires to teach us in the Bible, then you cannot believe in a God Who desires us to be one, unified people (i.e., John 17:20-22, 1 Peter 2:9-10), but rather in a God who scatters us and Who does not desire for us all to know Him and His truth (1 Tim 2:4). Hummm. 🙂 No wonder you oppose the Papacy so strongly, Jason. You apparently detest Christian unity. 🙂 And, if you disagree, what do you have to give us in exchange??? The God I believe in unifies all people in love and in truth. Only satan scatters this way. 🙂 So, …..

1) EITHER the Divine plan contained in the Bible is objectively UNknowable, OR …

2) It’s only knowable to a select few — intellectuals, like Jason himself, who claim to know Scripture so well that they can point out who is correct and who is in error. 😉

If # 1 is the case, then Jason is not a Christian, but a liberal relativist.

If # 2 is correct, then Jason is a Gnostic, on par with every New Age guru on the West Coast. So, which is it, Jason? 🙂

Mr. Engwer also asserted:

Likewise, there are disagreements over political documents, laws, historical records, etc.

To which I responded:

🙂 So the Bible — the INSPIRED ***WORD OF GOD*** — is no different than political documents, laws, historical records, and other such human means of communication???? 🙂 Are you listening to this, Evangelical brethren???? 🙂 I sure hope so. As for there being “disagreements over HISTORICAL RECORDS” …. Isn’t that exactly what we are saying when it comes to the Church Fathers???? …That YOU, Jason, are wrenching them out of context and distorting them??? 🙂 YET, you argue that they are clear and unambiguous. Ah! 🙂 So, the rules change when the shoe is on the other foot, I see. Usually, we Catholics have no right to interpret the Church Fathers in our (correct) way, according to Jason. 🙂 Yet, now he claims it’s all relative …like the Bible itself (according to him).

Engwer went on to say ….

Humans are fallible, and they often disagree with one another.

I responded:

But God is not: Isaiah 55:11. So, who interprets the Bible correctly, Jason? ..And how can we know? 🙂

Thus, a full year later, Jason Engwer has the bold-faced nerve to speak to us of “the Apostolic documents” — documents which he himself maintains are open to interpretation. And thus my question is promoted all the more: What should be our OBJECTIVE STANDARD for interpreting these Apostolic documents, and thus arrive at Christian orthodoxy??? This has still not been answered for us.

So, Mr. White, … If you wish to say “Amen, amen” to your relativist protege, Mr. Engwer, perhaps you will take me a little more seriously if I repeat last years’ trick and demolish his assertions for you right now. Then, perhaps we may have your opinion on the matter. 🙂

Once again, Mr. Engwer writes ….

Mark Bonocore has issued a challenge to James White that he’s also issued to me and to other evangelicals. He asks us to name an “ancient Christian” who we consider orthodox. We can easily say “Paul”, “Clement of Rome”, or “Mathetes”, but Mark will object to that. He’ll claim, for example, that since people interpret Paul in different ways, we must therefore document that some POST-apostolic person interpreted Paul the same way we do. Of course, people ALSO disagree about how to interpret the writings of those post-apostolic men.

Thus, Jason admits that both the Scriptures and the writings of the Church Fathers are open to someone’s interpretation of them. Thus, my very question: What makes Mr. Engwer’s or Mr. White’s interpretation of Scripture any better than mine? What is to be the objective standard?

So, since people disagree over what the church fathers taught, do we have to appeal to some even LATER source to interpret the church fathers for us? Isn’t it absurd to keep appealing to some other source to interpret the apostles’ writings for us when we can just read the documents ourselves?

Not at all. 🙂 As I pointed out in my exchange with Engwer last year, we are not native speakers of Koinic Greek, nor do we belong to the civilization which produced the New Testament documents. The Church Fathers did, however. Thus, that gives them a distinct advantage over us coming along 2000 years after the fact. Yet, Mr. Engwer seems to have difficulty digesting this reality — the reality of Sacred Tradition. The Church Fathers belonged to city-churches which were established by the Apostles themselves; and these city-churches possessed customs and traditional understandings which were inherited directly from the Apostles, and which were part of the living experience of those city-churches (2 Thess 2:15). Thus, their understanding is, by nature, superior to ours. Thus, their understanding cannot be ignored when considering an objective standard for interpreting Scripture.

Last year, it was Mr. Engwer himself who compared the Sacred Scriptures to political documents like the U.S. Constitution or the Bill of Rights (see above). So, do we still have these documents today? Yes, we do. Yet, notice how, when disagreements arise as to how to interpret them and apply them to our present experience, we must inevitably turn to things like the Federalist Papers and the private writings of our founding fathers in order to justify our INTERPRETATION of the Constitution or the Bill of Rights. This is because we assume that the founding fathers understood this document better than we do — since they were part of the 18th Century civilization that produced it. And such an assumption is valid indeed. When the liberals try to say that things like “a right to happiness” supports a woman’s “right” to abortion, we are forced to demand an example of such an application in the original experience of those who gave us the Constitution. And, when this cannot be done (since it was alien to the Christian civilization which founded this country), we justly conclude that a “right to happiness” does not include a woman’s ability to kill her child.

And it is no different with the deposit of Faith left to us by the Apostles. A clear example of this would be the issue of Baptismal Regeneration. When the Scriptures say that everyone must be Baptized, and we ask if this includes infants, we can turn to each and every one of the Apostolic city-churches and show that they did, indeed, Baptize infants and children (2 Thess 2:15). However, Mr. White and Mr. Engwer can give us absolutely no evidence of their symbolic style of Baptism being practiced or advocated in the early Church. That’s because this was not the Apostolic understanding.

But, Jason continues …

Unless, perhaps, Catholics just don’t like what the apostolic documents say?

Oh, we like what they say fine, Jason. And we interpret what they say with consistency. You Protestants, however, are heterodox, and base your interpretations on personal opinion and nothing more. And, if you object to this, please explain to me why both you and Martin Luther (both believers in Sola Scriptura) disagree when it comes to the nature of Baptism? You teach that it’s symbolic, and Luther taught that it was regenerative. So, which does the Bible teach? What makes your interpretation of the Bible any better than Martin Luther’s? What is your objective standard for interpreting the Bible? You’ve never given me an answer on this, Jason. I am, therefore, forced to conclude that you are a relativist, and that you don’t care about orthodoxy, but only your own opinion. Yet, is Mr. White a relativist as well??????? That’s what I’m waiting to hear. 🙂

If James White was to name somebody like Clement of Rome or Mathetes as an ancient Christian who he considers orthodox, the Catholic response would be either a) to try to point to contradictions between James White and the church father in question on SOME issues …..

Exactly. 🙂 That’s precisely my point.

You see, unlike we Catholics who believe in a Faith based on Sacred Tradition and the development of doctrine founded upon that Tradition (John 14:26 & 16:13), you Evangelicals hold that all we have are the Scriptures — static written records which comprise the completely-developed Faith as Christ intended it to be. Thus, the Faith possessed by Clement of Rome or the person called “Mathetes” (i.e., “The Disciple”) must be in 100% accord with Evangelicalism. And, if it is not, then you cannot use these Fathers to support your interpretation of Scripture.

But, we’ve been through all this before, have we not, Jason? 🙂

When it comes to Clement of Rome, for example, I’ve already shown that Clement of Rome believed in doctrines which you and Mr. White do not. Among these were (a) The Eucharist as Sacrifice, (b) Apostolic succession, and (c) salvation by both faith AND works.

On the first of these (a) in Chapter 40 of his epistle to the Corinthians, St. Clement wrote:

“Since then these things are manifest to us, and we have looked into the depths of the Divine knowledge, we ought to do in order all things which the Master commanded us to perform at appointed times. He commanded us to celebrate sacrifices (or oblations, or offerings) and services, and that it should not be thoughtlessly or disorderly, but at fixed times and hours. He has Himself fixed by His supreme will the places and persons whom He desires for these celebrations, in order that all things may be done piously according to His good pleasure, and be acceptable to His will. So then those who offer their oblations at the appointed times are acceptable and blessed, but they follow the laws of the Master and do not sin. For to the high priest his proper ministrations are allotted, and to the priests the proper place has been appointed, and on the Levites their proper services have been imposed. The layman is bound by the ordinances for the laity. Our sin will not be small if we eject from the episcopate those who blamelessly and holily have offered its sacrifices (or oblations).”

Now, last year, Jason, you took issue with my assertion that St. Clement is speaking here of the Holy Eucharist as a Sacrifice. You said that there was no evidence of this (despite its clear comparison with 1 Corinthians 11), and claimed that Clement (supposedly a “Bible Christian” like yourself) was talking about some kind of “church services.” Okay. 🙂 Well, then, if Clement was indeed a “Bible Christian” who received all his beliefs from the Scriptures (like yourself), please show me the chapters and verses where “the Master” (the Lord Jesus Christ) “commanded us to celebrate sacrifices (or oblations, or offerings) and services,” and where He told us to do this “at fixed times and hours“; and where He “has Himself fixed by His supreme will the places and persons whom He desires for these celebrations.” Where did Jesus do any of this in Scripture, Jason? Where did the Lord prescribe sacrifices (or oblations) and services to be celebrated at fixed times and hours by specifically-chosen persons and in specifically-chosen places???? If Clement is a “Bible Christian” like yourself, these commands of the Lord Jesus Christ for your so-called “church services” must all be recorded somewhere in the NT. So, where are they? Where in Scripture does Jesus give prescriptions of “church services” ?

As for (b) Apostolic succession, St. Clement also taught:

“The Apostles received the Gospel for us from the Lord Jesus Christ; and Jesus Christ was sent by God. Christ, therefore, is from God, and the Apostles are from Christ. Both of these orderly arrangements, then, are by God’s will.” (1 Clement)

So, Clement sets up a pattern of authoritative succession: God –> Jesus –> the Apostles. Then, in the very next line, he says:

“Through countryside and city they preached; and they appointed their earliest converts, testing them by the Spirit, to be the bishops and deacons of FUTURE BELIEVERS.” (1 Clement)

So, what’s Clement’s point, Jason? 🙂 What is he teaching here. He sets up the pattern (i.e., God sent Jesus and Jesus sent the Apostles). He THEN says that the Apostles appointed men to be the bishops and deacons of FUTURE BELIEVERS. Well??? What does that presuppose??? 🙂 It presupposes that the APOSTLES were the bishops and deacons (i.e., servants) of the FIRST BELIEVERS. Therefore, the men whom they appointed SUCCEEDED to their ministries. This cannot be avoided. To say otherwise is to make Clement’s teaching meaningless.

Yet, last year, Jason responded to this, saying …

Evangelicals don’t deny that or object to that. So you haven’t documented anything that evangelicals oppose.

I responded:

Excuse me? Evangelicals deny the authority of the Catholic bishops — bishops who can trace their succession to the first bishops appointed by the Apostles. Therefore, you do not believe that Hebrews 13:17 refers to them. Even placing the Apostles aside, you do not believe in such a rightful succession — a succession which gives the Catholic bishops rightful authority. However, Clement does:

“Our Apostles knew through our Lord Jesus Christ that there would be strife for the office of bishop. For this reason, therefore, having received perfect foreknowledge, they appointed those who have already been mentioned, and afterwards added the further provision that, if they should die, other approved men should succeed to their ministry.” ( 1 Clement 44:1-2)


“Ye therefore, who laid the foundation of this sedition, submit yourselves to the presbyters, and receive correction so as to repent, bending the knees of your hearts. Learn to be subject, laying aside the proud and arrogant self-confidence of your tongue.” (1 Clement 57)

This is not exactly the spirit of the Protestant Reformation, is it? 🙂

As to our third point (c) — that Clement taught salvation through both faith & works, Jason asserted the following last year:

In chapter 32, however, Clement contradicts Roman Catholic teaching by writing that people are saved through faith, apart from works.

Such a silly statement only shows that, despite his pretensions as a scholar, Jason never bothered to read all of St. Clement’s Epistle to the Corinthians. For, just two chapters earlier, the saint writes ….

“Let us clothe ourselves with concord and humility, ever exercising self-control, standing far off from all whispering and evil-speaking, BEING JUSTIFIED BY OUR WORKS, and not our words.” (1 Clement, Chapter 30, NPNF, Volume 9, page 238)

So, Jason misapplies Clement just as he misapplies Paul. Neither of them taught that we are justified by an inactive faith, but rather by a “faith WORKING through love” (Gal 5:6).

So, Clement of Rome was not a “Bible alone” Evangelical. Yet, like with Mathetes, the only reason Jason chooses to cite him is because we only have one example of his teaching (1 Clement to the Corinthians); and because that one letter does not present a comprehensive outline of Clement’s entire creed. Thus, Mr. Engwer hopes to “fill in the gaps” with his own imagination, and paint a picture of Clement as a “Bible Christian.” Yet, the mere fact that Clement teaches things which are not specfically taught in the Bible shows that he believed in both Scripture and Sacred Tradition. Thus, he cannot belong to Mr. Engwer’s, or Mr. White’s, denomination.

or (b) to argue that although James White may agree with everything the church father in question wrote

If this could be shown, then James White’s position would be justified. Yet, he cannot do this, can he? 🙂 However, I’m still waiting for him to give it a try. 😉

there are some topics this church father didn’t write about. For example, nowhere in the Epistle to Diognetus do we see the issue of the canonicity of the Apocrypha addressed. So if James White was to say that he considers the author of the Epistle to Diognetus to be orthodox, Mark Bonocore could object that James White can’t prove that he was in agreement with the author of the Epistle to Diognetus on the issue of the Apocrypha’s canonicity.

🙂 Jason, …. I find it interesting that, with a selection of well over 700 Church Fathers to choose from, you (speaking for Mr. White) can only cite obscure, limited examples (such as 1 Clement, The Epistle of Mathetes, and now the Epistle of Diognetus), which gives you the required “wiggle room” to cook up the remote possibility of agreement. 🙂 Why exactly is that? Come now, Jason … Show some bravery. What about the people who wrote comprehensively on the Faith? What about Irenaeus, or Justin Martyr, or Origen, or Tertullian, or Athanasius, or the Cappadocians, or Augustine, or Ambrose, or any of a hundred others? 🙂 Were any of them “Bible Christians”??? Did any of them agree 100% with your interpretation of the Faith presented in the Bible? This is what I wish to know from Mr. White. Indeed, both you and Mr. White have gone on record saying that even some of these major Fathers believed in Sola Scriptura (e.g. Basil, Athanasius, Gregory of Nyssa, etc.). Therefore, if the Bible is a source of objective truth, and if all we need to do is read it, why did these other so-called “believers in Sola Scriptura” not arrive at the Evangelical faith which you adhere to today???

Really now, … Can you present NO ONE who spoke on the “orthodox faith” comprehensively in ancient times? …Or must you hide behind obscure “snippets” like the Epistle of Mathates? 🙂 Was there no one to match Luther, or Calvin, or Knox in the early Church??? …But, then again, you and Mr. White don’t agree with their doctrines comprehensively either, do you? 🙂

Jason writes:

How do I know that Mark would respond this way? Because that’s how he responded to me.

And then you refused to answer. 🙂

A number of months ago, Mark (and another Catholic) asked me to cite some ancient Christians who I consider to be orthodox. When I gave some examples, I was told that those examples weren’t acceptable, for reasons such as those I’ve described above.

Right. Because we examined those ancient Christians and discovered that they believed differently than you on a number of issues. 🙂 Again, … If the Bible is all we have as our rule of Faith, and if one must be a “Bible Christian” in order to be orthodox, then you have still not produced an ancient Christian who achieved the same result from reading the Bible as you, Jason. All the examples you gave me either presented ancient Christians who believed in extra-Scriptual Traditions, or who interpreted the Bible differently than you. So, a year later, I’m still waiting for you to show me an Evangelical Christian in the early Church

Really now, Jason …. If you can point to “orthodox Christians” today (e.g. James White, Bill Webster, Dave Hunt, etc.), you should be able to do the same in the early Church. Therefore, please name an ancient Christian who exhibits your Evangelical faith without question. This should not be difficult to do if your position is sound. 😉

To illustrate the absurdity of Mark Bonocore’s challenge, I issue the following challenge to him. Name an ancient Christian who held all of the following beliefs: 1.) That the bishop of Rome is infallible when speaking ex cathedra on matters of faith and morals 2.) That there are no less and no more than seven sacraments, and that anybody who believes otherwise is anathema.3.) That Mary was bodily assumed into Heaven 4.) That Mary was immaculately conceived. 5.) That all sins are to be confessed privately to a priest. Etc.

🙂 It’s a year later, and you still don’t get it, do you, Jason? 🙂 There’s a difference between you and I. I, as a Catholic believe in the development of doctrine — that, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Church can and does come to deeper appreciations of facets in the Deposit of Faith left to us by the Apostles. Jesus promised as much in John 16:13. You, however, believe that the Faith is static — frozen solidly in the pages of a recorded document. …And that this recorded document is all we have. Well, if that’s the case, then it necessarily follows that you MUST be able to show that your interpretation of this document is consistent and repeatable for anyone (in whatever age) who reads the Biblical record. Yet, you admit that you cannot show this. Thus, you have no objective standard for your interpretation of the Sacred Scriptures. Thus, how can you say that your interpretation is any better than mine?? You can’t. Not with objective certainty. Thus, you follow a religion based on personal opinion — the very thing condemned in 2 Peter 1:20-21 & 2:1-3. You do not share “one Faith” (Ephesians 4:1-6) with the Christians who came before you. You do not share unity with them. …And nor do you care. You are most certainly a relativist.

I could also list some other Catholic doctrines, but I think we all get the point.

No, we do not. 🙂 …And, evidently, neither do you. Once again, we Catholics believe in development of doctrine. Therefore, the mere fact that St. Thomas Aquinas did not believe in the Immaculate Conception in the 13th Century does not mean that he was not an orthodox Catholic. Rather, the question of the Immaculate Conception of Mary had not yet been settled. St. Thomas did believe that Mary was sinless (as did the ancients); and that this sinlessness began at the moment of her birth (the most popular position in Aquinas’ day). He merely opposed the idea that she was sinless from conception. And, since the question was not yet decided, Aquinas was free to hold a theological opinion on this matter, since the Immaculate Conception itself was merely a theological opinion at this time.

The same can be said for the Hypostatic Union of Christ. Before the Council of Chalcedon in 451 A.D., it was quite possible for an orthodox Christian to believe that Jesus was not both fully-God and fully-man (the Hypostatic Union), but to hold the notion that the Lord was some kind of half-God /half man hybred. Yet, once the Church examined the question and infallibly declared the Hypostatic Union to be a dogma of the Church, one could no longer deny the Hypostatic Union and remain an orthodox Christian.

And the same can be said of circumcision. Before the Council of Jerusalem in 49 A.D., it was quite possible to be an orthodox Christian and believe that circumcision was necessary for Gentile converts. Yet, after that council, one could no longer believe this and remain orthodox.

Thus, we Catholics believe that doctrine can develop. We believe in a Church with a teaching authority — a Church with a Christ-given power to “bind and loosen” involving matters of the Faith. We believe that the Holy Spirit can and does lead us to identify aspects of the Faith which we did not consider before …just as Jesus promised in John 16:13.

You and Mr. White, however, do not hold to this view, Jason. Rather, you claim that the Bible is all that we have; and that it contains an objective, comprehensive message (i.e., the Evangelical Protestant faith) which is available to anyone who reads it. Thus, I am able to require you to show that your view (i.e., a Bible-alone rule of Faith) is consistent and repeatable. …In essense, I require you to show me that your system works. 🙂 And, if it does, you should be able to present at least one ancient Christian who achieved the same comprehensive result from reading the Bible as you do today (i.e., the Evangelical Protestant faith). So, can you do this or not?

No Catholic can name an ancient Christian who held all of those beliefs. There is no ancient Christian who believed everything that Catholics believe today.

Okay. 🙂 Let’s assume that you’re right. It still doesn’t help your case. For your position to be true, you must be able to show that a Sola Scriptura reading of the Bible is consistent and repeatable, and that this has occurred throughout history. Otherwise, you must concede that you’re a relativist, and that your faith is merely based upon subjective opinion.

What’s wrong with Mark Bonocore’s challenge? Why is it misguided? There are a number of reasons:

🙂 Oh, this should be good.

1.) We don’t need post-apostolic men to agree with our beliefs in order for those beliefs to be valid.

Sure you do. 🙂 …IF you wish to show that your interpretation of the Bible is objective and repeatable. If no post-Apostolic person interpreted the Scriptures as you did until modern times, then you have no way of proving that your interpretation is correct or any better than my interpretation.

Worshipping at the high places was popular during the Old Testament era, even under some of Israel’s best kings (1 Kings 15:14). Yet, God had clearly condemned the practice. Just because something is popular, even popular among the church fathers, that doesn’t make it correct. Catholics would agree with this principle on issues such as the Immaculate Conception, where so many church fathers contradicted what the RCC teaches today.

What’s the OT have to do with anything, Jason? 🙂 Yes. There were abuses, and many Israelites worshipped the Baals, etc. Yet, we know of ancient Israelites who did not do this, and we can name them (Elijah, Elisa, etc.) You, however, cannot do this in defense of your own, Evangelical faith. Why not? 🙂

2.) Some of the church fathers didn’t write much.

🙂 I see. So, only those who “didn’t write much” were Evangelicals? How convenient. Maybe those who believed that Mary was Immaculate “didn’t write much” either. 😉 Yet, I can STILL name one: St. Ephraem the Syrian, who wrote:

“Thou, and Thy Mother are alone in this. You are wholly beautiful in every respect. There is in Thee, Lord, no stain, nor any spot in Thy Mother.” (Poem to Christ, 350 AD)


“My Lady Most Holy, All-Pure, All-Immaculate, All-Stainless, All-Undefiled, All-Incorrupt, All-Inviolate …Spotless Robe of Him Who clothes Himself with light as with a garment …Flower unfading, purple woven by God, alone Most Immaculate.” (Ibid).

Now name a Church Father who “didn’t write much,” but who taught Sola Scriptura and whose teachings are void of any extra-Scriptural Sacred Tradition. 🙂

Obviously, evangelicals can’t prove that a church father would agree with them on every issue if there are dozens of issues that the church father in question never even wrote about.

Then, name a Church Father who covered all these issues, Jason. Was there no one among that theologically-fertile period of the 4th & 5th Centuries who spoke up for the Evangelical faith??? 🙂 Come, come, now, … You and Mr. White claim that men like Athanasius, Basil, and Gregory of Nyssa subscribed to Sola Scriptura. Therefore, if Sola Scriptua really works, why do these men profess a Faith that is different from yours???? 🙂 For goodness sake, how can that be, Jason??? Doesn’t Sola Scriptua do the trick in and of itself??? 🙂 I mean, isn’t that my problem, according to you? …That I’ve been corrupted by all those extra-Scriptural Traditions?

Yet, you & Mr. White argue that some 4th & 5th Century Fathers taught Sola Scriptura. Therefore, even if Athanasius and the others didn’t practice what they preached (which is what I assume you conclude), you must, at least, be able to give me SOMEONE from that incredibly active time who was “orthodox,” like you. I mean, were there no “orthodox Christians” at Nicaea? Were there none at Chalcedon? Gee, … I thought the Bible teaches that Christians must publicly proclaim the Gospel. So, why were all the “Bible Christians” so silent, Jason? 🙂 After all, you’d think that we’d have volume after volume of “orthodox” commentaries from this time …at least enough to match Protestant heroes like Luther and Calvin, so as to counter the errors of those nasty “proto-Catholics.” So, where are they???? 🙂 How is it possible that they do not exist?

So it would be absurd to ask James White to document a church father agreeing with him on every article of the 1689 Baptist Confession, for example, if that church father didn’t even address most of the issues covered by the Confession.

Okay. 🙂 Then name a Church Father who taught the modern Baptist position on Baptism. Name one. 🙂 I can name a great many who taught Baptismal Regeneration (the Catholic belief). So, where was the voice of “orthodoxy”? 🙂

Just as James White can’t document that the author of the Epistle to Diognetus would agree with him on sola scriptura, you can’t document that he would agree with you on sola Roma.

🙂 (a) We do not believe in “sola Roma.” If anything, we believe in “sola Catholica.” 😉

(b) I find it really, really funny that Jason keeps citing such obscure and non-commital documents like the Epistle of Diognetus. 😉 Now, I wonder why that is. Tee hee.

Again, …. I am not asking Mr. White to prove a case from silence. That’s absurd. Rather, I am asking him to deal with the evidence we have, and to present from that at least one person who subscribes to his comprehensive faith — a comprehensive faith which White claims is the natural result of reading the Scriptures.


(1) If Sola Scriptura was the recognized rule of faith for ancient Christians, and …

(2) If these Scriptures are an objective source of truth (i.e. “Evangelical Christianity”), then …

Then it should be quite easy for Mr. White to point to a Church Father who exhibits the same “orthodox faith” as he himself expresses today.

Yet, are you seriously telling me that Mr. White cannot present ONE PERSON who achieved the same result from reading the Bible as he does??? Not one??? 🙂 Why can Mr. White do this with people living today and not with anyone from the ancient Church???? If Mr. White can point to you or to Bill Webster and say: “He is my fellow Evangelical. He is my co-religious,” why can’t he do that for one of the Church Fathers, Jason? 🙂

…Unless, of course, there isn’t anyone in the ancient Church who is a co-religious of Mr. White. 🙂 Yet, if his position is correct (i.e. that Bible alone is the rule of faith and some ancient Christians subscribed to this), then he MUST be able to point to someone. If he cannot, then it necessarily follows that (a) either no one believed in Sola Scriptura or (b) that Sola Scriptura doesn’t work — that it does not achieve consistent and repeatable results (i.e. a comprehensive orthodox Faith).

So, which is it, Mr. White?

Catholics may respond by saying that even in what little we have from those earliest church fathers, there are some contradictions of evangelical belief. But so what? There are some contradictions of Roman Catholic belief as well.

But we don’t hold to Sola Scriptura or to a static position on the Faith. 🙂 You do. Thus, if there is anything — ANYTHING AT ALL — in a Father’s writings which contradicts the tenets of modern Evangelicalism, you must conclude (a) either this Father did not believe in Sola Scriptura or (b) he did not interpret the Bible as you do today. Thus, he’s not an Evangelical.

We Catholics, however, do not require the Fathers to conform to 100% of modern Catholicism, since we believe that doctrine develops under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Who leads the Church deeper and deeper into Truth (so as to see all facets of Truth). Yet, if a Father does not have what you see as “the truth” from the get-go, he’s automatically disqualified as Evangelically “orthodox.” So, please honor the requirements of your own position, just as we honor the requirements of ours.

For example, men like Papias and the author of the Epistle of Barnabas were premillennialists. Catholics aren’t premillennialists.

The question had not yet been decided in the days of Papias and the author of the Pseudo-Barnabas. Again, we Catholics believe in development of doctrine.

Papias also held to extra-Scriptural teachings of the Lord Jesus, such as the following one quoted by Eusebius:

As the elders who saw John the disciple of the Lord remembered that they had heard from him how the Lord taught in regard to those times, and said: “The days will come in which vines shall grow, having each ten thousand branches, and in each branch ten thousand twigs, and in each true twig ten thousand shoots, and in every one of the shoots ten thousand clusters, and on every one of the clusters ten thousand grapes, and every grape when pressed will give five-and-twenty metretes of wine. And when any one of the saints shall lay hold of a cluster, another shall cry out, ‘I am a better cluster, take me; bless the Lord through me.’ In like manner, [He said] that a grain of wheat would produce ten thousand ears, and that every ear would have ten thousand grains, and every grain would yield ten pounds of clear, pure, fine flour; and that apples, and seeds, and grass would produce in similar proportions; and that all animals, feeding then only on the productions of the earth, would become peaceable and harmonious, and be in perfect subjection to man.” Testimony is borne to these things in writing by Papias, an ancient man, who was a hearer of John and a friend of Polycarp, in the fourth of his books; for five books were composed by him. And he added, saying, “Now these things are credible to believers. And Judas the traitor,” says he, “not believing, and asking, ‘How shall such growths be accomplished by the Lord?’ the Lord said, ‘They shall see who shall come to them.’ These, then, are the times mentioned by the prophet Isaiah: ‘And the wolf shall lie, down with the lamb,’ etc. (Isa. xi. 6 ff.).” (Papias in Eusebius H.E.)

Do you believe that Jesus said this? Papias did. 🙂

Papias also taught that the Gospel of Matthew was written in Aramaic, writing:

“Matthew put together the oracles [of the Lord] in the Hebrew language, and each one interpreted them as best he could.” (Papias in Eusebius)

Yet James White (in the Boston College debate) denied this, maintaining that Matthew was originally written in Greek.

Papias also taught that Judas was killed by a chariot, as opposed to hanging himself, as the Scriptures teach:

“Judas walked about in this world a sad example of impiety; for his body having swollen to such an extent that he could not pass where a chariot could pass easily, he was crushed by the chariot, so that his bowels gushed out.” (Ibid)

Do you believe this?

Papias also taught that James the Just, “brother of the Lord” was not the child of Joseph and Mary, but the son of Mary’s sister:

“(1.) Mary the mother of the Lord; (2.) Mary the wife of Cleophas or Alphaeus, who was the mother of James the bishop and apostle, and of Simon and Thaddeus, and of one Joseph; (3.) Mary Salome, wife of Zebedee, mother of John the evangelist and James; (4.) Mary Magdalene. These four are found in the Gospel. James and Judas and Joseph were sons of an aunt of the Lord’s. James also and John were sons of another aunt of the Lord’s. Mary, mother of James the Less and Joseph, wife of Alphaeus was the sister of Mary the mother of the Lord, whom John names of Cleophas, either from her father or from the family of the clan, or for some other reason. Mary Salome is called Salome either from her husband or her village. Some affirm that she is the same as Mary of Cleophas, because she had two husbands.” (Ibid)

So, don’t you Evangelicals generally hold that “the Bible teaches” that Joseph and Mary had other children besides Jesus??? 🙂 Well, Papias disagrees. Thus, Papias was not your co-religious either. He was not a “Bible Christian,” but believed in extra-Scriptural Traditions.

The RCC has historically been amillennial, and the recent Catechism (676) even condemns premillennialism.

We also condemn the authenticity of extra-Scriptural teachings of the Lord. Yet, you agree with us there, don’t you? 🙂

So if Catholics disagree with these church fathers on some issues, why is it unacceptable for evangelicals to do the same?

Because you hold that the Bible alone is the rule of faith, and that the Christian Faith is something static and recorded totally and comprehensively in this written document. Thus, for an ancient Christian to be your co-religious, he must not express faith in anything that you would not express faith in. If the Bible alone is the source of your common faith, then you should be in total agreement ….IF the Bible is truly an objective source of truth, and IF you are interpreting it correctly, that is. 🙂

3.) If Catholics can disagree with a church father on a number of issues, yet consider him orthodox anyway, why can’t evangelicals do that?

Because we believe in the development of doctrine. You do not. Take the Council of Chalcedon and its definition of the Hypostatic Union of Christ as an example. If St. Irenaeus (200 years earlier) stated something which disagrees with Chalcedon, that is no big deal, since we believe that the question of Jesus’ two natures was not fully explored and defined by the Church until Chalcedon concluded the matter in 451. You, however, cannot accept this, since …if the entire orthodox Christian Faith is recorded statically in the Bible … then you must maintain that Christ’s Hypostatic Union (His being both fully-God and fully-man) is taught clearly and unambiguously in Scripture itself, and that this was always recognized by orthodox Christians.

Therefore, you must apply this same principle to all the tenets of your faith. Given your Sola Scriptura position, you must be able to show that your comprehensive reading of the Bible was shared by someone else in ancient times (who achieved the same results as you). ..Or rather you must concede that your interpretation of Scripture is totally subjective and non-repeatable throughout history. We don’t need to show this. But you do. 🙂 …Or else Sola Scriptura doesn’t work as an objective rule of faith.

For example, Catholics consider Augustine to be orthodox. Yet, Augustine either didn’t mention or contradicted a number of Catholic doctrines.

I answered this in regard to Thomas Aquinas above. It’s a non-issue, Jason. Now, why don’t you answer my question? 🙂

Regarding Augustine’s view of church government, the historian Philip Schaff points out that even though Augustine held a high view of Peter and of the Roman church, he didn’t believe in a papacy.

Oh, pleeeeease! 🙂 What do you call this:

“This act, Lord Brother, we thought right to intimate to your holy charity, in order that to the statutes of our littleness might be added the authority of the Apostolic See for the preservation of the safety of many and the correction of the perversity of some.” (St. Augustine to the Pope on Pelagianism, Ep. 175)


“For we do not pour back our little stream for the purpose of replenishing your great fountain, but in the great temptation of these times, we wish it to be approved by you whether our stream, though small, flows from the same head of water as your abundant river, and to be consoled by your answer in common participation of the same grace.” (St. Augustine to the Pope, Ep. 177)

Catholics may object that Philip Schaff is a Protestant historian, and that Robert Eno, though a Catholic, isn’t conservative enough.

Eno is a modernist and a heretic. Cased closed. Now, can we please stay on topic, Jason? 🙂

I guess not, since Jason also writes:

So let me give another example of Augustine disagreeing with Roman Catholic teaching, from a source I think the Catholics on this mailing list would trust. Envoy is a conservative Catholic magazine run by conservative Catholic apologist Patrick Madrid. Steve Ray, Tim Staples, and other conservative Catholic apologists have contributed to Envoy. An article in the September/October 1998 issue comments: “Despite Augustine’s tremendous influence, several of his opinions never gained acceptability in the Church. Among them, we can list the following theories: that God would condemn unbaptized infants to hell, simply because of the inheritance of original sin; that God would justly condemn adults who had never had the chance to be presented with the Gospel, again, due solely to original sin’s hold on them; that some people would suffer eternal damnation for no other reason than God’s lack of interest in saving them! As we reflect on these Augustinian positions, we must recall the fact that just because someone is a saint or even a doctor of the Church does not make his entire body of teaching acceptable; only the Church’s Magisterium can decide what is and is not consonant with Her understanding of the truth of Christ.

Again, Jason …. We believe in development of doctrine. You do not. What arose as theological opinions in the writings of St. Augustine were eventually examined by the Church in council and either accepted or rejected. That’s the way it works (see Acts 15). It is THE CHURCH which 1 Timothy 3:15 says is “the pillar and foundation of truth,” Jason …not any singular theologian, no matter how saintly he is.

Yet your religion does not work that way, does it? You are stuck with a static written record, which presumedly possesses a static interpretation, no? 🙂 Thus, if the Scriptures say that there is only salvation through acceptance of Christ, any pious God-fearing Jew, or ignorant savage in Africa, must be damned, right? Is that what you believe? And, if not, how do you justify believing otherwise? Can non-Christians be saved? If so, where does the Bible teach that?

Now, if Catholics can disagree with Augustine on these issues and others, yet cite him as an orthodox Roman Catholic, WHY WOULD EVANGELICALS HAVE TO AGREE WITH A CHURCH FATHER ON EVERY ISSUE IN ORDER TO CONSIDER THAT CHURCH FATHER ORTHODOX?

Because you believe in a static and immutable written record of faith (the Bible alone). Thus, for your interpretation of the Bible (i.e. Evangelicalism) to be valid, you MUST show that this interpretation is objectively consistent and repeatable throughout history. If you, as a Sola Scriptura Christian, say that the Bible teaches X; yet if an ancient Christian like Athanasius (who you claim also subscribed to Sola Scriptura) said that the Bible teaches Y, then either one of you are wrong or the Bible is a relativist document with no singular interpretation that is clear to all. Thus, yours is a subjective faith; and you cannot say that your interpretation of the Bible is any better than mine. Case closed.

Obviously, Catholics like Mark Bonocore are being inconsistent.

Oh? 🙂 Think again.

They’re willing to dismiss their own disagreements with the church fathers, yet they condemn evangelicals for THEIR disagreements with the church fathers.

But you are not free to disagree with the Church Fathers unless you can show that your interpretation is better than theirs. And, since you have no objective standard for doing this, you are reduced to a relativist. 🙂 Again, what makes your interpretation better than theirs? When we Catholics condemn an error in a Church Father’s writings we do so because we claim to possess an infallible Magisterium with the authority to determine Christian truth. And, once this is done, that becomes the immutable position of the Church (e.g. Acts 15). Yet, do you claim infallibility, Jason? Does Mr. White? 🙂 Well, if not, then what makes your opinions any better than that of the Church Fathers?

What is your objective standard for determining Christian orthodoxy? Ours is the Magisterium and the consistent Tradition of the universal Church. You, however, (given your position) must be able to show that your interpretation of Scripture is the only possible interpretation; and that true and enlightened Christians always recognized this in the Scriptures themselves — Scriptures which present this clearly, objectively, and unambiguously. Otherwise, you can kiss your “Bible alone” credo goodbye. 😉

If Mark Bonocore doesn’t have to agree with Augustine on every issue, why does James White have to document that HE agrees with a church father on every issue?

Because …

(a) If an ancient Church Father subscribed to Sola Scriptura (as Mr. White claims St. Athanasius did), and …

(b) If the Bible is an objective source of truth for anyone who reads it, …

Then, it necessarily follows that St. Athanasius would arrive at the same comprehensive faith as James White (i.e. Reformed Baptist Evangelicalism).

So, why didn’t he??? 🙂 Since we Catholics do not claim that the Bible alone is enough to arrive at the orthodox Apostolic Faith in all its fullness, we are not required to show 100% agreement with any Church Father in regard to the state of Catholicism in 1999. You, however (if your position is correct) MUST be able to show 100% agreement. Otherwise, you forfeit your right to say that the “Bible alone” is enough. Rather, you must admit that your Evangelical faith is based on more than the “Bible alone,” but also on your personal opinions in regard to Biblical interpretation. Thus, it all comes down to your interpretation vs. ours. And so, what makes your interpretation any better than ours? What is your objective standard for proving that your interpretation is correct? It cannot be the Bible, so it must be something outside the Bible. So, what is it?

Why don’t Sola Scriptura Christians (e.g. you, Martin Luther and, according to White, St. Athanasius) achieve the same results from reading the Bible??? And, since this is obviously the case, how can you continue to promote the “Bible alone” as the rule of faith? How many “faiths” does the Bible present to us? How do you know you are reading the Bible correctly? …Especially when you cannot find one person who achieved the same results as you in the ancient Church. 🙂 I don’t know how I can point out your problem any more clearly, Jason.

Jason writes:

Now, from my previous discussions with Mark, I suspect he might respond by demanding that I document the church fathers agreeing with me on a specific issue of HIS choosing. For example, if I document the church fathers agreeing with me on premillennialism, Mark will just change the subject by demanding that I document agreement on some OTHER issue.

Not at all. 🙂 You evidently conveniently forgot what I required of you last year. As we’ve seen with Papias, you may very well present someone in the ancient Church who subscribed to SOME of the tenets of modern premillennialism. 🙂 Yet, this same person will not agree with your Evangelical faith on other things.

Thus, given your Sola Scriptura position, you must conclude that he got premillennialism right from reading the Bible, but that he failed to correctly interpret the Bible in regard to other things …or that he believed some things that are not found in the Bible, but only in Tradition. Thus, you are not free to say that someone like Papias is an Evangelical. You are not free to say that he shared your faith, which (you claim) is rooted in a correct reading of the Bible ALONE. Thus, if you believe someone like Papias read the Bible correctly in some ways, but incorrectly in others, how do you know that you’re doing any better than him??? How do you know that you’re not reading things incorrectly too? …Or that the things which you think are right are really wrong, and that Papias was right about them? How do you know you’re not BOTH wrong about premillennialism? You don’t. 🙂 You have no objective standard. That’s what I’m pointing out to you, Jason. All you have is your own opinion. …And you’re gambling your immortal soul on that.

Alright, I’ll do that, as long as you let me make the same demand on you, Mark.

You can’t make the same demand on me, Jason, since I do not subscribe to the same premise as you and James White. 🙂

What if I demand that you specifically document a church father teaching the Assumption of Mary during the first few centuries of Christianity?

Well, … I would quote St. Epiphanius of Salamis, who, in 403 A.D. diplomatically wrote:

“Say she died a natural death. In that case she fell asleep in glory, and departed in purity and received the crown of her virginity. Or say she was slain with the sword according to Simeon’s prophecy. There her glory is with the martyrs, and she through WHOM THE DIVINE LIGHT SHONE UPON THE WORLD IS IN THE PLACE OF BLISS WITH HER SACRED BODY. Or say she left this world without dying for God can do what He wills. Then she was simply transferred to eternal glory.” (Adversus Haereses, 403 AD)

Here, Epiphanius, a Palestinian native, is speaking to Greeks in Cyprus and, while he does not force the Assumption upon them as a doctrinal requirement (since, at the time, Marian theology was viewed as a “side line” of the Faith), he does make reference to his own, Palestinian Tradition. 🙂

Yet, that’s beside the point. Even if there were Fathers who directly opposed the Assumption (which there are not), it would still not affect the way we Catholics approach the Faith, which is not static, but Traditional and developmental. You, however, are forced to limit yourselves to the Bible alone. Thus, anyone you cite must be in 100% agreement with your interpretation of Scripture. ….Otherwise, your interpretation is called into question. After all, you’re the one saying that the Bible is clear and unambiguous in and of itself; and that we Catholics need only rid ourselves of our “corrupting Traditions.” Yet, if you claim that some ancient Christian (e.g. Athanasius) subscribed to Sola Scriptura, then he must agree with you 100%, or you call the objectivity and repeatabilty of your interpretation into question. If the Bible is clear, then any Sola Scriptura advocate should achieve the same result as you from reading it. Thus, name such a person in the ancient Church.

Any way you approach it, Mark Bonocore’s challenge rings hollow.

Think again. 🙂 My challenge is perfectly sound. Now, what about your interpretation of the Bible? 🙂 If that’s as sound, it should be repeatable for whomever reads the Scriptures from a Sola Scriptura vantage point. So, where did St. Athanasius go wrong? 😉 And how do you know that he went wrong and not you???

“To be deep into history is to cease being Protestant.” – John Henry Newman — “To be deep into history is to cease having to rely on Cardinal Newman’s development of doctrine arguments.” – me

Fine. 🙂 Then prove it to the rest of us. Show how your Evangelical interpretation of Scripture is objective, repeatable, and HISTORICAL. 🙂 Name someone from the ancient Church who was clearly an Evangelical.

And I again put the question to you, Mr. White. You said “amen” to Jason. Now that I’ve overturned his nonsense, please put your money where your mouth is and prove that your position is as sound as my challenge to it. 🙂 …If you can. Pointing to us Catholics is not enough this time. If Sola Scriptura is true, then it must be repeatable, achieving consistent results. Thus, if you’re not a relativist, please prove that to me by producing an ancient Christian who is your co-religious. If you truly stand behind the principles you promote, you will not ignore my challenge. And, indeed, if your Evangelical faith is true, then my challenge is far from unreasonable. Thank you.

Mark Bonocore
The Catholic Legate
October 16, 2004

The Angels of Genesis 6

Mark Bonocore and a fellow Catholic discuss how to interpret Genesis 6 and the “angels” described therein. Mark comments are in blue. His opponent’s comments are in red.


I hold the “fallen angel” view. I see no textual justification for the “Sethian” view. I agree with Mark that no Church Father before the third century took the “Sethian” view and all the early rabbis held the “fallen angel” view. An interesting note is that the Septuagint translates the phrase “sons of God” as “angels.” I, of course, wholeheartedly disagree with Mark’s mythological view of Genesis.

Well, that’s really, really interesting, Bill because, it necessarily follows that, if you don’t accept a mythological interpretation of Genesis 6, then that means you must believe that angelic beings literally mated with earthly women but, if you believe that, you’ve embraced a heresy that has been condemned by the Magisterium and several Church councils. In other words, Catholics do not believe that angels can father offspring because we do not believe that they have physical bodies. So, how, as a Catholic (if you don’t mind sharing), do you reconcile these two things? I would think that this alone illustrates the untenable nature of interpreting Genesis literally.

Satan is “pure evil” isn’t he? Presumably these angels were the fallen ones who were cast out of heaven with Satan. St. Peter tells us: For if God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but condemned them to the chains of Tartarus and handed them over to be kept for judgment; (2 Peter 2:4)

A couple things 1) The above interpretation comes, not from the original Hebrew understanding of Genesis 6, but from a Greek (Hellenized Jewish) understanding that these “sons of Heaven” did wrong by mating with the daughters of men. Yet, there is no hint of this in the older rabbinical traditions, nor in the text of Genesis itself. Rather, in the context of Genesis 6 itself, the offspring of the “sons of Heaven” (the Nephliim) are described as “heroes” or “mighty men”-that is, antedeluvian supermen (Hebrew versions of “Hercules”), who were seen as the product of Divine power being still-present in humanity (i.e., “My Spirit will not remain in man forever”). And, 2) Satan cannot create life. Only God can. Thus, Satan (or his minions) cannot father human children (or angel-human hybrids).

Here St. Peter uses “Tartarus” a word borrowed from Greek mythology. Tartarus is the lowest place of hell (Hades) where the most evil and vile are tormented.

Yes. And, again, St. Peter is drawing from a tradition among the Hellenized (Greek) Jews in order to illustrate a point. This was not the original (Hebrew) interpretation of Genesis 6, however, where there is not the slightest suggestion that these “sons of Heaven” did wrong by mating with the “daughters of men.” Rather, the “intercourse” between these angels and human women is a parallel idea for God’s Spirit remaining in (and then being withdrawn from) human flesh. That’s all the passage is about. If it were otherwise, then the Genesis narrative would have had to continued to deal with the subject, and point out how God was specifically angry because of these angelic-human hybrids, and how the Flood specifically destroyed them, etc. (But that is all part of a, much later, Greek presumption …which saw this passage as a challenge to monotheism, and thus an occasion of “evil”). Yet, we don’t see any of this in the text. Rather, what we have is a poetic illustration of how God’s Spirit was slowly withdrawn from antediluvian man (again, see the “decreasing” genealogies in Genesis 5), thus explaining why people cannot live past 120 today. In other words, Genesis 6 was drawing from a very well-established oral tradition (belonging to the pan-Semitic culture), and is using it here to illustrate a truth-that the former intimacy which existed between Heaven and earth before the Flood-i.e., that little which was left of a physical “Divine spark” after the Fall of Adam-was withdrawn and the Flood itself was the benchmark for this. That’s all.

The use of this word is interesting because in Greek mythology this was the place where the Titans were imprisoned. The Titans were said to be the primal gods who had sexual relations with human women.

Two more things: 1) Whose admitting that Genesis draws from (or pays “homage” to) popular mythology now? And 2) The Titans never had relations with mortal women. That’s not part of the myth. However, what is part of all Near Eastern myth (Greek, Persian, Babylonian, pan-Semite) is that the “strength” of heroes (Hercules, Gilgamesh, etc.) was always attributed to Divine paternity-that is, the hero was always the son of a god or other heavenly being. This is what Genesis 6 is playing off in order to illustrate how such “heavenly strength” (which was common before the Flood) was slowly withdrawn from humanity as we came closer and closer to the Flood after the Fall of Adam (see Genesis 5). However, the BIG difference (and it is a very striking difference if one bothers to notice it) is that the monotheistic author of Genesis does not allow these heavenly “fathers” to be gods, but calls them “ben Elohim” (“sons of God” / “sons of Heaven”) – a common term for the angels: Job in order to hammer home the fact that he is speaking of “Heaven” in an open-ended, generic sense-that is “heavenly power” being intimately united with humanity. Again, that’s all it refers to.

As for St. Peter’s comments, which, once again, play off the popular beliefs of Hellenized Jews (in order to make a point), it was Greek-speaking peoples (Hellenized Jews) who equated these “sons of Heaven” with the Titans-the beings who ruled the earth prior to the pagan GREEK version of the Flood story (the myth of Decurion and his boat/ark). Thus, even in taking a more literal approach in regard to these “sons of Heaven” (an approach which Rome, in her more practical, Latin understanding, later condemned… by making it clear that angelic beings, esp. fallen ones, cannot father children) the early Greek-speaking Christians are still SCREAMING the fact that Genesis 6 is an element of mythology because these Greek-speaking Christians equate these “sons of Heaven” with the mythological Titans.

Their offspring were “giants” who attempted to enslave mankind.

Again, that’s incorrect. In Greek mythology, the Titans themselves were the giants. And, again, the Titans did not mate with mortals; rather, it was the gods, their successors, who used to do that a lot.

Clearly St.Peter is making a connection between the Greek myth and the Genesis account.

Well, I agree that he is. But also, keep in mind, that even Matt 16:18 uses the word “Hades”-an element of Greek myth. Thus, Peter’s reference to Tartarus (the lowest region of Hades) is not surprising. In this, we really need to appreciate how ingrained Greco-Roman mythology was in the minds of the earliest, Greek-speaking Christians and likewise how ingrained pan-Semitic myth was in the minds of Hebrews, both before and after the introduction of Mosaic Law. Yet, unlike modern Anglo-Saxons, our Jewish and Christian forefathers were by no means threatened by this, but used it to the advantage of the true, Abrahamic Faith and the Gospel itself.

The New American Bible makes this connection in its footnote on the text. This second example draws on Genesis 6:1-4 as elaborated in the apocryphal Book of Enoch: heavenly beings came to earth and had sexual intercourse with women. God punished them by casting them out of heaven into darkness and bondage.

Please note that this is part of the later sections of Enoch. Again, we see Greek influence here.

My problem with viewing the Noah account as myth is that Noah is presented to us as an historical person in the New Testament, and an ancestor of Jesus. >

Okay. The events depicted in Genesis are TRUE and HISTORICAL… BUT, they are not presented using literal or historical LANGUAGE, but rather in the LANGUAGE of myth. Why do so many of my fellow-Catholics (ESPECIALLY the Protestant converts) have a problem accepting this? What’s more, no one ever said that Genesis, or any book of Scripture, is a straight, comprehensive narrative, as opposed to a collection of various sources. The account of the Nephilim in Genesis 6 is one of these independent sources-an isolated story intended to theologically support what surrounds it. Notice, for example, that Noah himself is never mentioned in this account, nor is he or his Flood ever connected to the Nephilim. Rather, these are independent “vignettes” with no narrative connection to each other, save the intention of introducing the context of the Flood. But, despite popular belief, that context is not because of the conception of the Nephilim, but exactly the opposite. Because man had become “fleshy” with no “heavenly virtue” in him and so God’s Spirit was being slowly withdrawn (see the decreasing genealogies in Gen 5) and man was growing in wickedness.

Noah’s covenant forms part of the basis of salvation history. If Noah’s story is nothing more than a reworking of the Gelgamesh epic or some other myth, then St. Peter and Jesus Himself were mistaken.

Again, Noah is a historical person (although his literal name wasn’t “Noah”), and the Covenant really happened. BUT, what we have in Genesis is NOT a literal historical narrative, but an account written in MYTHIC language. And, if you do not come to terms with this, you will, sooner or later, hit a brick wall. Catholicism is a REAL faith, and one must deal with our Traditional heritage REALISTICALLY. We may not bury our heads in the sand.

It is also true that the Flood was a major historical event in the fertile crescent that is attested to in several places. The Greeks, the Hindus, the Babylonians, and several others have stories about the Deluge. Recently, it has been shown that there was catastrophic flooding in the area of the Black Sea about 7000 years ago which inundated many coastal cities and towns very rapidly. This has been implicated by some as the flood of Noah.

We’ve discussed this before, but I don’t believe that a “regional flood” takes care of the account in Genesis, both because Genesis is clearly speaking of a universal catastrophe (i.e., one that HAD TO affect all of the peoples outlined in Genesis 10 – a demographic stretching from Persia to Spain, and from the Ukraine to Nubia), and also because Genesis is not speaking of a literal flood at all (although floods may have been literally part of it), but rather of the “waters of chaos” (a common mythic image of pan-Semitic mythology) which are, in the Genesis narrative, first cited in Gen 1:2, then “divided” by the firmament in Genesis 1:6-7 into the “waters above” and the “water below.” It is these same “waters above” and “waters below” (that is, not literal water, but the primordial principal of “chaos”) which are permitted to flow back into creation (from both “above” AND “below”) in Genesis 7:11, thereby destroying the world, which is presented (in Genesis’ cosmology) as a kind of “bubble” surrounded by this “watery chaos” above and below. The Flood account is merely saying that God allowed “chaos” to flow back into His Creation and destroy it-that is, some universal (though unspecified) catastrophe nearly wiped mankind out. And, if we look at physical evidence before 15,000 years ago, near the end of the last Ice Age (when mankind mysteriously first appears on this planet), this approach seems to be the reality.


Let’s put this to rest. Show me where I am running counter to the Church in my interpretation of Genesis six, and I will concede my position.

Okay. Well, as I touched on before, in taking Genesis 6 literally, you fall into four errors which are simply not Catholic:

1) You are claiming that angelic beings have the ability to procreate. However, this is not the teaching of the Catholic Church, which has always authoritatively maintained that angels are purely spiritual beings, and that they cannot procreate. In response to Matt’s request for a citation, there have been numerous Magisterial statements to this effect …beginning with the synod of Rome in 745, under Pope Zachery, which directly condemned the idea that angels reproduce. But, if you want something more ecumenical in authority, the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 (the same Council that defined Transubstantiation) re-affirmed the Church’s position that angels are spiritual beings ALONE, and this teaching was quoted again by the First Vatican Council in the context of the doctrine on creation: ‘God at the beginning of time created from nothing both creatures together, the spiritual and the corporeal, that is, the angelic and the earthly, and thus He created human nature as having both, since it is made up of spirit and body” (Constitution De Fide Catholica, DS 3002). And, in 1986, in his Catechesis on the Holy Angels, Pope John Paul re-affirms this same truth, teaching: “According to Sacred Scripture the angels, inasmuch as they are purely spiritual creatures, are presented for our reflection as a special realization of the ‘image of God’, the most perfect Spirit, as Jesus Himself reminds the Samaritan woman in the words: “God is spirit” (Jn 4:24).” (Pope John Paul II – Catechesis on the Holy Angels, 1986)

Thus, literally speaking, angels cannot themselves father children who will inherit their “heavenly attributes,” as seemingly described in Genesis 6 in regard to the Nephilim.

Now, … Here, it should be pointed out that the Church does concede that angels sometimes can assume, and have assumed, quasi-human bodies. For example, in the same Catechesis, our present Pope writes …

“Their purely spiritual being implies first of all their non-materiality and their immortality. The angels have no “body” (even if, in particular circumstances, they reveal themselves under visible forms because of their mission for the good of men), and therefore they are not subject to the laws of corruptibility which are common to all the material world.” (Ibid).

And, likewise, in the Summa, St. Thomas says …

“Some have maintained that the angels never assume bodies, but that all that we read in Scripture of apparitions of angels happened in prophetic vision–that is, according to imagination. But this is contrary to the intent of Scripture; for whatever is beheld in imaginary vision is only in the beholder’s imagination, and consequently is not seen by everybody. Yet Divine Scripture from time to time introduces angels so apparent as to be seen commonly by all; just as the angels who appeared to Abraham were seen by him and by his whole family, by Lot, and by the citizens of Sodom; in like manner the angel who appeared to Tobias was seen by all present. From all this it is clearly shown that such apparitions were beheld by bodily vision, whereby the object seen exists outside the person beholding it, and can accordingly be seen by all. Now by such a vision only a body can be beheld. Consequently, since the angels are not bodies, nor have they bodies naturally united with them, as is clear from what has been said (1; 50, 1), it follows that they sometimes assume bodies.”

Yet, while admitting that angels can assume bodies, St. Thomas then clarifies what is meant by that, saying …

“The angels have not bodies naturally united to them. For whatever belongs to any nature as an accident is not found universally in that nature; thus, for instance, to have wings, because it is not of the essence of an animal, does not belong to every animal. Now since to understand is not the act of a body, nor of any corporeal energy, as will be shown later (75, 2), it follows that to have a body united to it is not of the nature of an intellectual substance

In other words, if an angel assumes a body, that body is not part of its angelic nature, but a (miraculous?) accident. It therefore follows, on this point alone, that even ‘incarnate angels’ cannot procreate with human women and/or pass on their “angelic attributes” to their (supposed) offspring. This likewise refutes Art’s suggestion, drawn from the “Malleus Maleficarum,” that such incubi use (or used) sperm extracted from living men in order to impregnate women (per the conception of the Nephilim) … which would, of course, nullify any possibility that the Nephilim inherited their supernatural size and power from “angelic fathers.” …because, obviously, the sperm would have been normal human sperm.

2) You hold that angels were once able to father children with women (that is, before the Flood), but that they were punished for doing this in those days (per 2 Peter 2:4-5), and so cannot do the same afterwards (or today). Yet, as I said before, this does not square with the rest of Scripture. Firstly, Genesis 6:4 says that these Nephilim appeared on earth “later” (as well as in antediluvian times), and numerous other Scripture verses, esp. Numbers 13:32-33 directly cite them by name:

“And all the people we saw there are huge men, truly Nephilim …we felt like mere grasshoppers, and so we must have seemed to them.”

Thus, if Nephilim existed after the time of the Flood, and indeed well into the reign of David (per 2 Samuel), then your assertion that angels literally fathered children only in antediluvian times (and were punished for it only then) cannot stand. (MORE ON THIS BELOW)

3) You hold that 2 Peter 2 and Jude 6 literally refer to the punishment of the “sons of Heaven” in Genesis 6 –that is, punishment for a transgression which took place after man’s creation and the fall of Adam and Eve. Yet, the Magisterium of the Church does not apply these Scriptures in this way. For example, in John Paul’s Catechesis on the Holy Angels, the Pontiff writes …

“In fact, we read in the Letter of St. Jude: ‘ . . . the angels who did not keep their dignity, but left their own dwelling, are kept by the Lord in eternal chains in the darkness, for the judgement of the great day’ (Jude 6). Similarly, in the second Letter of St. Peter, we hear of ‘angels who have sinned’ and whom God ‘did not spare, but… cast in the gloomy abysses of hell, reserving them for the judgement’ (2 Pet 2:4). It is clear that if God ‘does not forgive’ the sin of the angels, this is because they remain in their sin, because they are eternally ‘in the chains’ of the choice that they made AT THE BEGINNING, rejecting God, against the truth of the supreme and definitive Good that is God Himself. It is in this sense that St. John writes that “the devil has been a sinner from the beginning…” (Jn 3:8). And he has been a murderer “from the beginning”, and “has not persevered in the truth, because there is no truth in him” (Jn 8:44).”

So, according to John Paul, these Scriptural references to the angels in Tartarus refer, not to some antediluvian sexual indiscretion with human females, but to the Fall of Lucifer’s rebel angels at, or near, the beginning of time.

And, connected to this, …

4) In asserting that these angels sinned and were punished AFTER the rebellion of Lucifer (because Genesis 6 apparently depicts them as mating with human women in the days of Noah, just before the Flood), you violate yet another dogmatic Catholic position, which maintains that all angels made their compete and irrevocable choice to either serve God or to oppose Him at the point of Lucifer’s rebellion. As the Catechism says …

“Scripture speaks of a sin of these angels. This ‘fall’ consists in the free choice of these created spirits, who radically and irrevocably rejected God and His reign. We find a reflection of that rebellion in the tempter’s words to our first parents: ‘You will be like God.’ The devil ‘has sinned from the beginning‘; he is ‘a liar and the father of lies.’ It is the irrevocable character of their choice, and not a defect in the infinite Divine mercy, that makes the angels’ sin unforgivable. ‘There is no repentance for the angels after their fall, just as there is no repentance for men after death.’ ” (Catechism, 392 & 393)

In other words, the angels made their choice once, at the beginning; and that choice is irrevocable. Thus, despite Hollywood movies like the horror film “The Prophecy,” there is no danger of Michael or Gabriel “changing their minds” and falling into sin next week, or some time in the future. And, this being the case, it was simply not literally possible for some of these “sons of Heaven” to commit a sin AFTER the fall of man (by having sex with the female descendents of Adam) because all angels had already made their irrevocable choice (for or against God) long before that time.

So, in short, your literal interpretation of Scripture places you in conflict with the Magisterial teaching of the Catholic Church in regard to points 1, 2, 3, & 4 above …thus illustrating the untenable nature of interpreting Genesis literally. Indeed, in looking up the quote above from the Catechism, I happened to notice this one too:

390 HOW TO READ THE ACCOUNT OF THE FALL “The account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE, but affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man.”

Needless to say, “figurative language” is not the same as literal language …And this is precisely what I’ve been saying from the start regarding the nature of Genesis as a literary work. In other words, it uses the language of myth –that is, figurative language in order to describe true historical events. So, are you now going to dispute the Catechism of the Catholic Church too???

Now, with all this spelled out, you also responded to a number of my earlier points:

I had written …

Oh, I’m certainly not “branding you with heresy,” Bill. I’m merely pointing out that you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place on this issue; and, sooner or later, you’re going to have to deal with the untenable nature of your position. That’s all.

And you respond …

Thank you for the clarification, but if we can define a heretic as one who “embraces heresy” that that is indeed what you did.

Sigh! Okay, Bill have it your way. I said what I said in order to point out that you have fallen (innocently) into error. But, if you want to hold fast to that error and make it your own, then fine: You’re a heretic. 🙂 My earlier comments, and brotherly correction, were made in the light of the observation of the late, great Bishop Fulton Sheen, who said, “We are, all of us, closet heretics.” …Meaning that no one person (not even the Pope …and certainly not Mark Bonocore! 🙂 has a perfect grasp of the Catholic Faith. However, if you wish to press the issue and talk material heresy, then okie-dokie. You are not in accord with Catholicism in regard to your interpretation of Genesis 6. That places you in heresy. So, what do you want to do about it? Receive correction? Or continue to think and believe apart from the Church? And, again … What I say here is in regard to one thing and one thing only: That is, your assertion that you believe Gen 6 refers to angels (and nothing else) and your further assertion that these angels literally mated and reproduced with human women. These two positions together paint you into a corner (as I have pointed out several times), and place you in opposition to official Catholic doctrine. Now, despite Art’s characterization of my criticisms of you, I AM NOT saying that you must follow my interpretation of Genesis 6 in order to be orthodox. For example, any Catholic may maintain the Sethite interpretation (as late and as unsatisfying as it is) and still remain in accord with the Catholic Church. Yet, to concede that these “sons of Heaven” are indeed angels, and THEN to say that theyliterally reproduced with human women, simply places you outside of the Church and her Magisterial teaching. I’m sorry if you find that insulting, but it’s simply the truth.

I also wrote ….

Well, I also said that the Church grants such freedom in the context of not overburdening the “little ones” –that is, non-intellectuals who simply cannot grasp the idea of historical reality being described in non-literal language (e.g. “milk” vs. “solid food”). However, an intellectual like yourself cannot ignore the obvious …that is, if he wishes to remain an intellectual (e.g. apologist).

And you responded …

Nonsense. In all charity my brother this statement is nothing more than intellectual snobbery. So if I believe literally what the Scriptures say, both Old and New, this disqualifies me as an intellectual and an apologist, a strange position to take.

Well, the truth is often “strange,” my friend. Yet, like Bob Sungenis and his ilk, for a 21st Century Catholic to take an ultra-literalist position on Scripture reduces Catholicism to the realm of “fairy tale” and is tantamount to denying JPII’s teaching in “Fides et Ratio.” In other words, given what we now know about ancient history, science, and the literary nature of Genesis, the Fundamentalist/ultra-literalist position is simply not reasonable and paints all of Catholicism as an unreasonable Faith. Because of this, there is simply no place for it among Catholic intellectuals. However, the Church does permit it for the sake of those who have difficulty incorporating more mature views. Call it “snobbery” if you will. But, I prefer to call in mercy on the part of the Church.

I wrote ….

Well, I cannot do that, Bill, because I still don’t understand what you full position is. That’s why I asked you for it. However, what we do know is that you reject the Sethite “solution.” We also know that you take Genesis literally. However, if we add these up, it seems to imply that you believe that angels fathered children with women; and if that’s the case, then you HAVE embraced a heretical position because the Magisterium and several Councils have infallibly taught that angels cannot do this.

You respond ….

Quite the contrary, you understand exactly what my position is. Again, show me where the Church condemns my view and I will concede, and with many thank to you I may add.

See above. And, again … If angels are “purely spiritual,” and if they can only assume bodies “as accidents,” and if these assumed bodies are “not part of their nature,” then how, pray tell, could the “sons of Heaven” in Genesis 6 have procreated, let alone pass their “angelic qualities” onto their supposed offspring? Face it, Bill. Assuming that the “sons of Heaven” are indeed angels, one simply cannot interpret Genesis 6 in a literal fashion and still remain in accord with the official teaching of the Catholic Church. Rather, the only options open to you are a) abandon your literalist interpretation, or b) deny that these “sons of Heaven” are angels (e.g. embrace the Sethite interpretation), or c) follow the path of the reformers and deny the authority of the Catholics Church, which teaches that angels cannot procreate. What’s more, as I showed above, you interpretation of Genesis 6 contradicts the Catholic teaching that angels did not, and do not, sin after the initial rebellion of Lucifer, where all angels made an irrevocable choice, whether for or against God. To interpret Gen 6 literally means that you assert some angels sinned after the initial rebellion …which is against Catholic doctrine.

I wrote ….

So, if you want to stick with the Bible, you cannot say that angels (or a class of angels) once could father children, but now cannot …because such angels were clearly still “having kids” LONG after the Flood, and into the reign of David and beyond. But, according to your interpretation, drawing from 2 Peter, the angels of Genesis 6 were condemned to Tartarus in the DAYS OF NOAH (2 Peter 2:4-5). So, according to Scripture, this was not merely an antediluvian phenomenon; and if your really want to take it literally, then what that means is a) angels still fall (despite the Church’s teaching to the contrary …that all angelic beings made their final decision during the War against Lucifer) and b) that God neglected to punish the angels who “fathered children” after the Flood …because Scripture never says that they were punished, but only the antediluvian “Watchers” were. So, again, your position is untenable.

You responded ….

No so. As you know the term Nephilim is used in the sense of a giant else where in Scripture and no indication is given that they are the offspring of fallen angels and humans. So when are the Nephilim to appear again, we are not told.

Nice try, Mr. Literalist. 🙂 But, that obvious dodge doesn’t work. And why? Well, not only does Gen 6, which defines where the Nephilim come from, say that they (the Nephilim) also showed up later (that is, after the Flood) …and thus were the product of post-diluvian unions with angelic beings, but …To cite an even clearer example, … In Numbers 13:33, these Nephilim are directly referred to as “Anakim” —that is, the sons of “Anak” (a.k.a. “Arba”) who was a Canaanite solar deity, and who is listed as an angel of God in the Zohar and other ancient Jewish sources (see Ginzberg, “Legends of the Jews”).

You also write …

Your arguments against equating David and Giggamesh are exactly the same as I would use in countering your theory that Genesis is based on Babylonian and Sumerian myth.

It is not a “theory” that Genesis is based on Sumerian-Babylonian myth, Bill. Rather, it is an established scholarly fact; and the Catholic Church concedes it to be such. In an earlier email, I quoted Pope Pius XII on this subject (and you ignored him). I now give you John Paul II saying the same:

“…..The second description of the creation of man (cf. Gen 2:18-25) makes use of different language to express the truth about the creation of man, and especially of woman. In a sense the language is less precise, and, one might say, more descriptive and metaphorical –closer to the language of the myths known at the time. ” (John Paul II Letter to Women on the Eve of the 4th World Conference on Women, 1995)

…and also …

“Cosmogony itself speaks to us of the origins of the universe and its makeup, not in order to provide us with a scientific treatise but in order to state the correct relationship of man with God and with the universe. Sacred Scripture wishes simply to declare that the world was created by God, and in order to teach this truth, it expresses itself in the terms of the cosmology in use at the time of the writer (i.e., Babylonian / pan-Semitic myth). The sacred book likewise wishes to tell men that the world was not created as the seat of the gods, as was taught by other cosmogonies and cosmologies, but was rather created for the service of man and the glory of God. Any other teaching about the origin and makeup of the universe is alien to the intentions of the Bible, which does not wish to teach how heaven was made but how one goes to heaven. (Address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on 3 October 1981)

Hear that, Bill??? 🙂 “Alien to the intentions of the Bible.” That’s your style of interpretation that the Vicar of Christ is talk’n about. …and he’s talking to Catholic intellectuals above.

So, I’ve now give you Pius XII, John Paul II, and the Catechism, all of which clearly define the literary nature of Genesis for you. Yet, you still wish to take it literally and call yourself an intellectually-mature Catholic in regard to this subject???

I wrote …..

as I said before, Bill, your problem is that you’re approaching this from a black-or-white, on-or-off mentality, without appreciating the “balancing act”(as I cited in my previous email to Matt today) that is going on –that is, taking parts of what modern Scriptural scholarship has revealed to us (very good things) without going over-board or abusing it (as the liberals do). Either we approach Genesis for what it really is, or we murder part of the Truth and embrace the opposite error of Fundamentalism. And a Catholic intellectual is simply not free to do that. This is why I strongly urge you to re-consider your position.

You respond …

I agree that there is much good to be found in liberal and secular scholarship and believe it of not I do read them. I have learned much of value but as you point out there is a lot of junk there too.

Agreed. Yet, what I have presented, in union with, and in submission to, the authoritative teaching of Pius XII, JP II, and the Catechism, etc., is not “junk.” Rather, it is the mind of the Church, and thus the Breath of the Spirit.

I also read fundamentalist scholars and the same applies. I will be the first to admit that there is still a lot of fundamentalism left in me. I realize that my ideas can be colored by that and I am ever vigilant and open to correction. But, on the other hand, this is not all bad either and I hope I never loose my fundamentalist bent, I feel that because I can “speak the same language” as those Protestants that I meet here in the Bible Belt, I have a distinct advantage apologetically.

And I, for one, would never fault you (or any convert) for that very powerful gift, which is, and has been, a great asset to the English-speaking Catholic Church. But, at the same time, and especially since you admit that you still have some lingering Fundamentalism, I do not see how you can take any offense when a cradle Catholic like myself suggests that you adjust your newly-acquired “sensus fidelium” (sense of the Faith) so that it is more in keeping with the mind of the Church. Needless to say, conversion to Catholicism is not completed in a year or two; and far too many American converts (esp. apologists) tend to forget that (thus the fall of Bob Sungenis, etc.). As for cradle Catholics, we too, of course, are by no means infallible. I myself, for example, used to go around teaching that Jesus could have sinned if He had freely chose to …that was, until a very wise priest took me aside and corrected him, pointing out how that is a species of Nestorianism, and thus a heresy. So, again, Bill, despite how some here have recently depicted me, I am not in the business of casting anathemas at anyone. Rather, I’m merely trying to celebrate Catholicism in ALL its profound truth and its abundance …a dimension that is often lost when we limit our experience of the Faith to dialoguing with Protestants or with contemplating Catholicism only in the light of how it is “better than Protestantism.” If we’re to truly defend and promote the Faith, we must go deeper than that …far deeper.

Part 3

Thank you for your response. One favor please. I am unable to find the document from the Synod of Rome where the notion of angels procreating with humans is condemned. Would you please forward the text to me and a web link would be great.

Well, two things, Bill … I wasn’t able to find a quote from the synod itself, but only a passing reference to it in one of my books on angels. As Matt and some others here know, I have the rest of my library packed away because I’m moving to a new house next weekend. But, give me a couple weeks to settle in, and I’ll get you some more substantial info on it.

However, with that said, you also write …

Where as the other material that you referenced does maintain that angels are spiritual beings, they really do not address the issue at hand.

I’m sorry, Bill, but that’s simply not the case. The Fourth Lateran Council, and numerous other Magisterial teachings, make it abundantly clear that angels are purely spiritual beings; and if they are purely spiritual, then they simply cannot biologically reproduce with human beings …because they possess no biological material to pass on to such supposed “offspring.” That goes without saying. Also, consider the words of the Lord Himself in Matt 22:30, where, speaking of mankind at the end of time, He says ….

“At the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.”

Here, as in Matt 19:12, the word “marriage” refers to sexual intercourse –the physical consummation of marriage. And so, even according to the NT itself, angels simply cannot engage in physical reproduction. And this has been the consistent official position of the Church.

To cite yet another example, St. John Cassian writes to the West, saying …

“We cannot possibly believe that spiritual existences can have carnal intercourse with women. But if this could ever have literally happened how is it that it does not now also sometimes take place, and that we do not see some in the same way born of women by the agency of demons without intercourse with men? especially when it is clear that they delight in the pollution of lust, which they would certainly prefer to bring about through their own agency rather than through that of men, if they could possibly manage it, as Ecclesiastes declares: ‘What is it that hath been? The same that is. And what is it that hath been done? The same that is done. And there is nothing new that can be said under the sun, so that a man can say: Behold this is new; for it hath already been in the ages which were before us.’ “

Cassian then goes on to champion the (pastoral) Sethite interpretation of St. Augustine. But, even so, again and again, we see the Church (once it realizes that it must present a practical interpretation for Genesis 6) clarifying the fact that angels are purely spiritual and cannot literally reproduce. St. Augustine, St. John Cassian, and Julius Africanus all do this by proposing the Sethite interpretation; the Malleus Maleficarum comes up with the (very creative 😉 idea that succubai “harvest sperm” from male humans, then give it to incubi, who in turn use it to impregnate human females; etc. Rather, it is only the Protestant heretics who “resurrect” a literal understanding of Genesis 6 …because it is “what the Scripture says,” and these Protestants are not about to submit to “Roman” doctrine on the matter. 😉

So, we again arrive at your problem, Bill …which is that, if you take Genesis 6 literally (while rejecting the “pastoral” Sethite interpretation), you clearly oppose the teaching of the Church. …thus revealing that Genesis 6 is not intended to be taken literally. And, if you disagree with this, can you please explain how you can justify the idea that angels can (or once could) procreate? For, since angels are pure spirits and have no biological material to pass on to offspring, it can only mean that …

a) These angels took the biological material from somewhere else (e.g. the idea of incubi using harvested male sperm). Yet, Genesis 6 says that the “sons of Heaven” themselves were the fathers of the Nephilim …thus accounting for their great size and power. And so, if these angels used normal biological material that was not their own to “father” these children, they could not pass on their supernatural attributes to them. Rather, the Nephilim would resemble these “sons of Heaven” as much as a test tub baby resembles the OB-GYN doing the lab work. 🙂

…or …

b) These angels were able to father children using “assumed” bodies. But, as St. Thomas pointed out (more on this below) such assumed bodies would not be natural to these angels, and so, again, no “supernatural attributes” would be passed on to their offspring ….even if we were to accept that such “assumed bodies” allowed angels to reproduce.

And so, since both a) and b) above cannot solve the problem posed by a literal interpretation of Genesis 6 (i.e., how were the Nephilim the literal offspring of angelic beings, complete with inheriting their supernatural attributes), how can you say, then (setting aside the Church’s Magisterial statements to the contrary) that angelic beings can (or could) reproduce?

Indeed, Bill … Since all reproduction is really a transcendent act of creation on the part of Almighty God, are you saying that God chose to “create” in the context of an unnatural union between angels and mortal women? How could that be? For, while the Church fully grants that God, for His own mysterious reasons, sometimes chooses to create in the context of evil or sin (e.g. a rape victim who becomes pregnant by her attacker), this is STILL part of God’s natural order –His natural biological design put to an illicit or sinful use. But, in the case of angelic beings having sex with mortal women, this is not part of the natural design, but something that is dramatically and intrinsically disordered; and I would submit to you that God would no more honor this unnatural context, in order to create through it, than He would bring about a child through the copulation of two homosexuals …even though God, if He wanted to, could obviously (miraculously) create a new life this way too. And so, given the disordered and unnatural context of Genesis 6, are you saying that the Nephilim came into being apart from God? Are you saying that God was not their Creator? And, if so, then you have, unfortunately violated yet another canon of the Fourth Lateran Council, which condemned the idea that satan, or any other infernal creature, came into being independently of God (that they were not once good creatures who became corrupted, etc.). So, what exactly is your position on the Nephilim? Did God create them? If so, why? And if He created them, why did He destroy them in the Flood?

As for Aquinas, you write …

In quoting St. Thomas I believe you did not fully grasp what the Holy Doctor has to say on the subject. While maintaining that angels are spiritual beings and that their accidence is by nature non-physical he does maintain that they can assume physical bodies as you have pointed out. But the word “accidence” here does not reference some miracle as you seem to maintain but the physical properties of something (cf the accidence and substance as they apply to St. Thomas’ teaching on the Eucharist).

Sorry, Bill, but you yourself apparently did not grasp my point. In the quote I provided, yes, Aquinas is not speaking directly about angels, but about corporal beings (us). However, if you read what he wrote, it necessarily follows that any “body” which an angel assumes is likewise an “accident” …since it is not part of the angel’s (spiritual) nature. …anymore that “bread” or “wine” become part of the Divine and/or human natures of Christ in the Eucharist. Rather, the bread and wine are accidents, and are not part of Jesus’ communicated Eucharistic natures (i.e., His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity) at all. And, indeed, … Just as we do not receive or become “one flesh” with bread and/or wine in the Eucharist (but with the Divine and human natures of Christ Himself), so the Nephilim could not have inherited the angelic natures of their “fathers,” via supposed “assumed bodies,” because these “assumed bodies” (being “accidents) could not pass on their angelic natures to their offspring.

As for St. Jude 1:6 the New American Bible ties the text directly to Genesis 6 in the foot note: “This second example draws on Genesis 6:1-4 as elaborated in the apocryphal Book of Enoch: heavenly beings came to earth and had sexual intercourse with women. God punished them by casting them out of heaven into darkness and bondage.”

Well, as I already pointed out, the NAB footnotes leave much to be desired; and certainly don’t compare to Magisterial teaching. John Paul II, and all of Sacred Tradition, say that the angels fell and were punished in accord with the primordial rebellion of Lucifer. There was no “subsequent fall” of the angels, just as there can be no future falls. Rather, the choices of angels at the time of the War (for or against God) were irrevocable …even as the Catechism teaches.

As I have continually maintained I am open to correction. You arguments are persuasive, but as of yet, I, nonetheless, remain un-persuaded.

Fair enough, Bill. As I said, I will try to find you a direct Magisterial quote condemning the idea that angels can reproduce …something the Catholic Church clearly believes. But, even without that, you must be able to see the profound problems which your position leads to. As I said from the start, this should urge you to reconsider your literalist approach to Genesis, which is thoroughly untenable on many counts. And, again … I am a stickler on this issue, not because I wish to take anyone’s freedom away, but because it is most necessary in our day and age to appreciate and promote the fullness and reasonableness of Catholic truth –something which cannot be done if we don’t first recognize Genesis to be what it really is.

Mark Bonocore
The Catholic Legate
August 20, 2004